Firm Aims Web Service at Seniors

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ElderVision.Net, Oakmont, PA, is preparing to Introduce Touchtown, a service to make online shopping easier for those 65 and older who live in retirement communities and have little access to the Internet.

Entrepreneur Jeffrey Pepper, founder of ElderVision, thinks his senior-friendly computer will break down the wall of fear separating seniors from the online market. The company hopes to introduce it by the end of next month.

The ElderVision device has no keyboard, mouse or touch pad. Seniors access services by touching large pictures on the screen, giving them access to e-mail, shopping and the Web.

The unit -- about the size of a laptop computer -- uses voice-recognition software so users never have to type a word, although a keyboard can be purchased optionally. A grandmother who wants to e-mail her grandson can touch his picture on the screen and dictate the message into the device.

Several studies have documented an increase in Internet activity by seniors. But Pepper said one group of seniors, those residing in assisted-living facilities, has been left behind.

Among them was Pepper's father, who spent six years in a retirement home in the Pittsburgh area. Pepper said his father's experience gave him the idea for Touchtown.

"It seemed to me the decline in his health had something to do with the isolation he had from his friends and his community," he said. "I started to think how sad it was that this was happening to my dad and millions of other people."

Pepper plans to market the device, currently being tested in three Pittsburgh retirement homes, strictly to assisted-living facilities, which will use it as an added service to residents. His company will not market Touchtown to individual consumers because of the high cost of acquiring and supporting customers.

Touchtown will bring in revenue from multiple channels, including sales of the device, subscription fees for services, advertising and commission on online sales.

ElderVision.Net also plans to use Touchtown to gather market data about the senior population it serves, and the data should be another source of revenue, Pepper said. The company is preparing a privacy policy and envisions Touchtown as a "gated" community, where access from the outside, including by marketers, is controlled.

The 65-and-older demographic is the wealthiest in the nation, but technology providers have yet to develop a product designed specifically for seniors, Pepper said. Instead, designers have taken standard technology, changed it slightly and labeled it as "made for seniors."

ElderVision.Net started from scratch and built Touchtown from the ground up, Pepper said. The device requires no mouse clicking or typing, so it can be used even by those with significant muscular or neurological problems associated with aging, such as dementia and Parkinson's disease.

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