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Designing the Future of Technology for Seniors

Designing the Future of Technology for Seniors

Barbara Beskind, a legally blind product designer, is shaping the future of technology for seniors.

 

Barbara Beskind is a well-known designer in Silicon Valley who helps companies make better assistive technology and products for seniors. She does all this at the age of 94, and although she might be legally blind, she’s showing no signs of slowing down as she continues to redefine who product designers can be and what they can do.

For Barbara, a life-long passion for making things better and solving problems began in childhood. She recalls making her own toy horse to ride at the age of 8 using a pair of old tires. She considers this her first exposure to the world of design.

Although she wanted to be an engineer and an inventor as a teen, she was encouraged to join the Army instead because most engineering colleges would not accept women students. Training in occupational therapy, Barbara served in the Army for 20 years before retiring in 1966 as a major.

After retiring from the Army, Barbara maintained her own private practice for children with learning disabilities in New Jersey. She was also awarded 6 patents for devices that aid children with balance issues.

At the age of 88, Barbara began to consider retirement. However, one evening found her watching an episode of 60 Minutes with David Kelley, founder of major product design company IDEO. Kelley was talking about how they value having diverse teams with many different perspectives when designing products.

The episode changed everything. It was a light-bulb moment for Barbara, who immediately thought “oh, that sounds like that’s for me!” It also didn’t hurt that she was already living in Silicon Valley, not far from IDEO. After writing to IDEO, Barbara heard back promptly and was given a consulting role in helping design products for the ever-growing base of aging baby-boomers.

Finally, Barbara had become the innovative product designer she always dreamed of becoming—it only took 80 years of hard work! Now, at the age of 94, Barbara is continuing to work with IDEO and creating products for people who are aging or living with some kind of physical impairment.

Because of her passion for her fellow seniors, Barbara has become a bit of a celebrity in her field. She gives regular speeches at conferences and acting as an ambassador for seniors and those living with impairments.

For these designs, her inspiration comes from making her friends’ lives easier. She helped a fellow resident at her independent living community by adding rear-view mirrors to his walker so he can see who’s approaching from behind. Also, since many of her friends fall regularly, she’s designing an air-bag system that would deploy to help cushion falls and keep everyone safe from injury.

She’s even working with a team designing a new type of glasses that can replace bifocals by changing prescription electronically. When the younger designers on the team planned to use small replaceable batteries to power these glasses, Barbara spoke up and challenged the team to make it easier for seniors to use. Now, they plan to recharge the glasses by USB, which is simpler for people with less-nimble fingers to manage. Her vision for these glasses is that they’ll recognize friends’ faces and use small speakers to remind the wearer of peoples’ names as they approach. That’s not a feature most younger designers would be thinking about adding!

Because of her passion for her fellow seniors, Barbara has become a bit of a celebrity in her field. She gives regular speeches at conferences and acting as an ambassador for seniors and those living with impairments.

But, her recent success in design hasn’t been without its challenges. She was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1998, which eventually caused her to lose most of her vision by 2012.

Although she is now legally blind, Barbara continues to be an inspiration to the design community. She uses her experience with near-sightlessness to help create products specifically for people with limited vision. She also makes sure to design easy-to-feel bumps on her products to help people orient them, and she varies things by color, size, and texture to ensure they can be seen more easily.

For her, it’s all about embracing the changes that come with aging and designing specifically for them. Her passion is inspired by her compassion for her fellow seniors, and her own experience with aging helps her understand what will work and what won’t.

Barbara Beskind’s Best with Age story just goes to show: if you don’t ever give up on your dreams, it’s never too late to achieve them. What’s your passion? What’s your dream? How could you work to continue doing what you’re passionate about to work toward your dream? Continue those passions and you just might come across an opportunity, just like Barbara being inspired by David Kelley’s talk. Live, love, learn, and be inspired every day.

#BestWithAge A Blog Series About How the Human Spirit Shines Brightest with Time

 

Sources:

https://news.usc.edu/115495/blind-at-92-barbara-beskind-is-not-your-typical-product-designer/

https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/01/19/377702882/at-90-shes-designing-tech-for-aging-boomers

https://www.nextavenue.org/product-designer-age-stereotypes/