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Sunday Business

Surf City, Here She Comes

As Seniors Log On, New Tech Opens Some Quality-of-Life Doors

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page F01

Sometimes the residents of the Kensington Park Retirement Community in Kensington don't know quite what to make of Carolyn Layton.

At lunch one recent afternoon, Layton, 74, pulled up in her motorized chair to her usual table in the dining room. Josette, her regular lunch companion, was already there, picking the toppings off her pizza.

Carolyn Layton, 74, whose severe arthritis restricts her to a motorized wheelchair in an assisted living home, keeps informed and in touch with friends and grandchildren via her computer and digital camera. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Making the Computer Easier to Use: Seniors interested in getting comfortable with the Internet can be hampered by physical characteristics of computers. A sophisticated world of "assistive devices" exists, primarily for people with physical disabilities, and some of these software programs and systems and devices can cost into the thousands of dollars.

"You should sell the rest of it on eBay," Layton joked.

"What's that?" Josette asked.

"It's an auction," Layton explained.


Layton went back to her grilled cheese and tomato. By now, she's used to the people around her not always understanding her. But she would rather be a bit of a misfit than give up her Internet connection -- even if it is dial-up.

Layton uses the motorized chair because of a degenerative spine ailment. But her mind is agile. Without e-mail and the Internet, her world would not stretch far beyond the confines of her retirement home, where the highlight of the day for many is a session of "Sittercise" or a van ride to Target.

While her peers spend their days sitting in the sunroom downstairs, Layton reads six daily newspapers online, instant-messages her grandson in Maine and downloads bits of animation to attach to e-mails.

Layton thinks her neighbors, some of whom suffer from early Alzheimer's, would benefit from time spent online.

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