Historically, buildings have not been accessible to everyone. It can be challenging for older people, children, people with disabilities, and people with cognitive difficulties to easily access buildings. Whether it's high steps, narrow doors, or unfamiliar technology causing challenges, no one should have trouble entering or exiting a building.
For older people, new technology often isn't very inclusive. When new access control or technology related to entry is installed on a building, it can be confusing to use, leading to seniors and children struggling to enter their homes or respond when visitors ring the bell. With such a high level of loneliness among the elderly, it is crucial to make technology more inclusive to prevent or combat their isolation.
Universal design, inclusion, and equal treatment
The real estate industry has made strides towards incorporating more inclusive and accessible solutions for everyone in properties and building regulations. For instance, the Norwegian building regulations TEK 17 lay out the standards that developers must meet for a property to satisfy the universal design requirement. This includes features like high/wide enough doors and ramps for easy access. For newer homes or properties, these regulations make it easier for everyone to live and work there. However, when it comes to technology, the rules are broader.
In a conversation with Joachim Stray, the founder of and CPO at Defigo, he explains why this is a problem:
"The industry is developing technology for the broad masses, users who are digital and comfortable using technology in their everyday life. The elderly have a different starting point; they understand technology and digital solutions differently than those with high digital competence. But we all become frustrated and stressed if we are presented with a technical solution that we cannot master, and when you add time as a factor, the stress level increases even more.
We have seen examples where older people dread getting visits because they can't use their intercom, and some so much that they don't even want visitors. So they sit there alone and become isolated from family, friends, and society at large. We should not let that happen."
For many technology companies, accessibility and inclusion are an afterthought. Since the majority of the population is able-bodied and technologically competent, this is consciously or unconsciously the target audience for technology providers.
"At Defigo, we have always made it a priority to develop solutions that everyone can use, whether it's children, older people, or analogue individuals. We believe more should focus on the same, especially in the proptech world."
Collaboration between prop tech companies and property developers has resulted in buildings becoming increasingly smarter, with features like sensors, keyless access, and mobile-based app technology becoming more common. The problem with this is that one doesn't know where physical switches have been replaced with sensors. It can be confusing and distressing not to easily lock oneself into or move around the building one lives or works in.
A new solution for the elderly developed with Oslo Met & Oslo Municipality
"Smart buildings are only smart for those who know what it means and are comfortable using new technology. That's not the case for everyone. When we considered how to make Defigo even more user-friendly for the elderly and analogue users, we looked at the technology this group is most familiar with. For example, radios, traditional phones, answering machines, and TVs. All of these have large physical buttons that control what happens on the device. That was an excellent starting point for us," says Joachim.
With this in mind, Defigo created 'Defigo Elite' in collaboration with Oslo Met University and Oslo Municipality. Defigo Elite is a simplified interface on the Defigo in-apartment station that connects to both the Defigo intercom at the property entrance door and the doorbell at the apartment. The interface comes with large text on the screen for those with limited vision, and when called from the intercom or doorbell, it displays large, simple buttons on the screen. When the in-apartment station is not in use, it displays the time of day (day/night), a feature requested by the elderly who developed the solution in collaboration with Defigo.
"We are very pleased with how Defigo Elite looks and works. And by collaborating with Oslo Met and Oslo Municipality, we collected extremely useful insights into how we could best develop an optimal solution for the elderly, analogue individuals, and people with cognitive challenges. Defigo Elite is a simplified version of Defigo, but our goal was to minimize confusion for the user so that they could easily receive visitors, which can contribute to reducing isolation among these users."
Even though the product is not launched until August this year, the solution is now being piloted in a senior housing facility in Oslo with very good results.
"The most satisfying part of the process was seeing Defigo Elite in use. It would have been short-sighted of us to create this product for the elderly and analogue individuals without involving that specific user group in the development and testing of the solution. We have received very good feedback so far, and we are excited about the launch. With this product, Defigo can do its part in reducing loneliness and isolation among the elderly and analogue individuals."
Defigo Elite is launching in August, and will only be available in Norway. Sign up to receive the Defigo newsletter and get information about the launch.
Watch the webinar on universal design with Marit Haldar from Oslo Met and Joachim Stray.
Interested in Defigo Elite for your property? Contact us to get a quote.