Academic journal article Human Factors

Effects of Age, Speech Rate, and Environmental Support in Using Telephone Voice Menu Systems

Academic journal article Human Factors

Effects of Age, Speech Rate, and Environmental Support in Using Telephone Voice Menu Systems

Article excerpt


Telephone voice menu systems effectively transform touch-tone telephones into computer input and output devices. As a result of the versatility, decreasing costs, and increasing power of these systems, their use has become more widespread and has encompassed a larger variety of tasks (Marics & Engelbeck, 1997). In principle, the ubiquity of touch-tone telephones, the relative speed and ease of information access, the greater privacy in managing affairs, and the fact that the user should be able to dial up "cold" make telephone voice menu systems desirable. However, in reality many people have experienced difficulty and frustration with these systems (Paap & Cooke, 1997).

Given the cognitive demands associated with the use of telephone menu systems, especially those related to working memory, these systems might be particularly problematic for older users. More specifically, the serial presentation of auditory information places heavy demands on working memory (Tun & Wingfield, 1997). especially if a listener is not familiar with a particular program of instructions. As these types of systems proliferate, it is becoming increasingly important to take into account the limits of aging memory. Another concern is that most applications are not accompanied by support materials, which further increases the complexity of interacting with these systems.

On a conceptual level, telephone voice menu systems generally have dialogue structures that provide less context than does language spoken in face-to-face communication. In light of evidence that older persons benefit more than younger persons from contextual cues in spoken language, especially under conditions of noise (Perry & Wingfield, 1994), it is not surprising to find that older people generally dislike telephone voice menu systems and find them difficult to use (Rogers, Meyer. Walker, & Fisk. 1908).

There has been limited experimental research on the usability of telephone voice menu systems, especially in regard to older users. Moreover, most if not all of the experimental work has involved prototype or scaled-down systems that lack the complexity of systems users are expected to interact with in managing everyday affairs.

In one study involving a prototype of a telephone menu system, DeGroot and Schwab (1993) examined the effects of speech rate for three age groups (20 30, 40-50, and 60-70 years old). Participants called the prototype system either to place an order for three-way calling or to learn how to use the call forwarding feature. The older participants performed the prototype task less effectively and reported more difficulty and confusion obtaining information than did the younger participants across all compression rates (0% or uncompressed speech, 10%, 20%, and 30%). However, for a number of the subjective measures (e.g., clarity and ease of use), as well as for call duration, there were no significant effects of compression rate. It appeared that the time saved by compressing the voice recordings was offset by slower responses and more key presses, especially at the 20% and 30% compression rates. The more highly compressed recordings were more frequently rated as too fast or much too fast, and 30% compressed speech resulted in significantly less favorable ratings of the speaker than did 0% or 10% compression. However, there was no significant relationship between age group and ratings of compression rate. In a study on age differences in recall of speech as a function of speech rate, age deficits at faster rates have been found to be larger (Stine, Wingfield, & Poon, 1986), implying that compressed speech may adversely affect older adults, possibly because of age-related declines in processing speed.

Although guidelines for developing telephone menu systems have become available (e.g., Schumacher, Hardzinski, & Schwartz, 1995: Marics & Engelbeck, 1007), they are based primarily on human factors design principles, such as those dealing with dialogue issues (e. …

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