AGNES - or the Age Gain Now Empathy System suit - is AgeLab’s iconic tool for helping others to better understand the physical and functional challenges that often come with getting older. The suit consists of a system of movement-inhibiting weights and pulleys, vision-impairing goggles, and tactile sensation-reducing gloves and shoes to simulate the gamut of limitations experienced by many older adults. AGNES has been worn around the Boston metropolitan area, in grocery and retail stores, and in demonstrations for students, engineers, government officials, and business leaders to help people develop empathy for older adults and to understand some of the challenges they face in interacting with different products, interfaces and public spaces.
On August 4, 2016, in partnership with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the MIT AgeLab took two AGNES wearers onto the Red Line to help create a seamless experience for older users in accessing transit stops, paying fares, boarding, and wayfinding The AgeLab team took a short demonstration trip from Kendall/MIT station to Charles/MGH and back to identify some of these friction points for older adults who ride on public transportation.
AgeLab intern Neilesh Yajnik was one of the AgeLab team. He observed that while wearing the AGNES suit he had difficulties inserting a credit card into the fare machine, differentiating between objects of similar colors, and reading wayfinding maps and signs. He moved slowly and had trouble keeping his balance. It was necessary for him to hold a railing at all times while on the train to keep his footing.
Older adults who do not drive are particularly reliant on public transportation to move around their communities. But it can be easy for transportation officials and engineers to overlook the challenges and limitations that older adults face in performing tasks that younger people may accomplish easily. AGNES provides a window into the experiences of a growing older adult population who may need to negotiate their environment in a different way.
See below for a group of images showing how impaired vision (central scotoma, specifically) impacts one’s ability to navigate the subway station.
(Photo credit Marika A Psyhojos)