This blog post was written by Bonnie Kearney, director of Trustworthy Computing Communications for Accessibility and Aging at Microsoft. Bonnie has been with Microsoft for more than 18 years and is especially passionate about building awareness for technology that improves the lives of people of all ages and abilities. The post was originally featured on Microsoft's Accessibility Blog here.
When was the last time you felt truly inspired at work? For me it was yesterday, as I watched seniors laugh and play together in the heart of New York City.
I realized the future of aging is not in a rocking chair. It is in the invigorating dance moves of Zumba, the thrill of competition in a boxing ring or a bowling lane, and exercise in a virtual environment, with the help of technology that paves the way for new connections and friendships.
In a new public-private partnership, Microsoft teamed up with New York City’s Department for the Aging (DFTA) andDepartment of Information Technology & Telecommunications (DoITT) to develop Exergamers NYC. This program uses Kinect for Xbox in unexpected ways to promote more active and social lifestyles for New York City seniors. Participants bowl on virtual lanes, compete in boxing matches, swing for the fences in baseball games, and enjoy Zumba dance competitions. Senior centers from all five boroughs can compete against one another on Xbox and then discuss and celebrate their achievements together over Skype. The partnership builds upon the success of a 2010 collaboration between Microsoft and New York City that created the region’s first Virtual Senior Center.
To witness this first hand, I traveled to New York City for the inaugural Senior Center Kinect for Xbox Bowling Competition between players from Manhattan’s SAGE Center and Queens’ Selfhelp Benjamin Rosenthal Prince Street Senior Center. While the competition was fierce, the camaraderie was genuine, with players in the virtual games cheering, teasing, and clapping. Across town, seniors at the city’s first center for blind and visually-impaired seniors, VISIONS Selis Manor Senior Center, also enjoyed their own Xbox bowling competition.
VISIONS serves thousands of people from all five boroughs with a wide range of vision impairments, ranging from those with some vision loss to those who are completely blind. According to center director Nancy Miller, maintaining health and physical fitness can be particularly challenging for low-vision seniors because health conditions that cause vision loss may cause other health complications. But virtual sports, such as Kinect’s bowling and Zumba, offer cardiovascular benefits without risks associated with other forms of exercise; there are no sharp objects, heavy weights to lift, or complex fitness machines to operate. And unlike climbing stairs or walking on a treadmill, exergaming is a social activity. Group activities also can help seniors regain a sense of belonging and reduce social isolation. Seniors use a yoga mat to orient themselves spatially and listens to audio cues to know when they have the virtual bowling ball in hand using Xbox.
As I connected with seniors before and after the day’s virtual matches, I was happy to be part of it all. I particularly enjoyed hearing seniors tell stories about new-found friendships, health benefits and the thrill of competition. The Exergamers NYC collaboration between DFTA, DoITT and Microsoft has been impactful in the community. Teamwork, partnership and collaboration are all buzzwords we read about in management books and hear in staff meetings. But, this program puts these words into action and transforms lives. I have witnessed it first hand, and it’s inspiring.