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PROGRESSIVE Task Force member Vassili Louziotis shares views on standards for active and healthy ageing

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PROGRESSIVE works together with a Task Force (TF) of older people representatives who can voice the needs, challenges and concerns of older end users in standardisation committees and activities. TF member Vassili Louziotis, an advisor to the Co-Federation of Greek Pensioners (AGSSE), provides his views on standards, how they can be useful for society as a whole and for more vulnerable consumers/citizens, what the importance of interoperability is, and how to involve end users/older citizens in the standardisation process.

How do you “feel” about or how well are you acquainted with standards?

Standards are used in many areas of science, technology and manufacturing of products. I am discussing standards from the perspective of the end-user, i.e., how standards affect our daily life. I think that the main “benefit” of standards is that they provide a sense of assurance to the user. Mentioning that a product conforms to a standard set by an authorised organization allows a user to purchase the product with confidence.
Having said that, I feel I know very little about how standards are set and approved. Who is involved? What process is followed in analysing the situtaion, the requirements, the constraints and economics in the specific area/product? How do we know that the standard is followed by all manufacturers? My understanding is that the process is somehow “hidden” from the public. This should change by providing more transparency.

How do you think standards are useful for society as a whole and for more vulnerable consumers/citizens?

I mentioned “assurance” earlier. The vast majority of users are not in a position to evaluate the quality and the specifications of a product. They rely on the indication that the product is in line with a specific standard. This makes selecting products easier and safer. This is especially so when we talk about older people, who are much less familiriar with recent technology advances and feel at a loss when it comes to choosing a product such as a mobile telephone or a tablet.

What are, to your opinion, the main priorities for standardization in the coming years to sustain active and healthy ageing?

There are two things to consider here:

1. There is a growing number of ‘senior citizens’ in most European countries.
2. The speed of technological advance is increasing, with new products appearing every day — literally.

These two factors mean that there is an increasing number of people who are faced with an increasing number of wonderful new products which may be inaccessible to them because they cannot use them (they are too complicated, or not designed for them). On the other hand, they represent a growing market segment, which should be of interest to manufacturers.

What I think should happen is a coordinated effort in setting and applying standards to these products that are relevant to older people. Here are some suggestions, not necessarily in order of importance:

  • Set up joint groups (designers, manufacturers, software engineers, older people representatives, Goverment Agencies) to identify specific requirements of older people in the use of ICT products and/or services. These groups can work on a national or European level (this is preferable, because products are designed for large markets).
  • Validate these requirements as widely as possible, using questionnaires, or, better still, testing prototype products.
  • Design and manufacture products that have the capacity to meet these requirements in addition to the ‘typical’ requirements. I believe that in many cases, the changes that might be required would also be useful to other groups as well as to the general public. There may be cases that a new version of a product might be necessary.
  • Ensure that ALL products in a specific category meet these standards in a similar way to allow users to easily move from one product to the next without having to go through a lengthy learning process again.
  • Clearly identify the products that meet the requirements of older people (in the labels or promotion/advertising)
  • Develop specific applications that meet older people’s needs, related to mobility, safety, communication, health, etc.
  • Link such applications to Public or Private Services to allow users to interact with them.
  • Provide clear, plain-language instruction on how to use the products (this is important for ALL users)

How do you see in particular the importance of interoperability, i.e. smoothly interworking services, given the rapid spread of digitalisation and interactive service platforms?

More and more services are moving towards digitalisation. For example, we have to deal with the tax authorities online. It is becoming difficult and costly to visit a bank branch. These trends are likely to continue and expand. They are good ways to keep us active and involved, but we need to be able to participate. Each Agency, Bank or Company use their own software and it is becoming difficult to keep up with all the changes in all the systems! What we need is a generic approach in the design of interactive systems, so people become more familiar and confident in using them.

Why did you decide to take part in the PROGRESSIVE Advisory Board? What do you expect from the project and/or what do you hope to achieved by interacting with the project?

I have often been frustrated by products which I find difficult to use. Unclear instructions, letters that are hard to see or too small to touch, differences in operating systems that make communication among devices almost impossible. I thought that taking part in an effort to solve some of these problems would be an interesting but also useful activity. I would like to see developers and maufacturers listen to the needs of older people and provide products and services that are better suited to those needs. At the end, it will be in their own interest, because I believe the market potential for such products and services is huge.

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