Wired seniors should no longer be ignored. Not just in Turkey, but all around the world.
“Between January and December 2011 online penetration amongst 55+ went up 11% in Turkey”. Considering that this segment will be ageing, it presents the case that digital technology must cater for a progressively ageing online population.
I’d like to share the story of a wired senior; my grandfather and his determination to stay connected.
My grandfather was always interested in the latest gadgets. Though as he got older his interest in high tech products changed. He began researching and purchasing gadgets that would make his life easier in a more literal way. His eyesight deteriorated, he was unable to see the time on his watch so he found Lighthouse International; an organization dedicated to empowering citizens fighting vision loss. The watch he purchased from Lighthouse International, enabled him to have a watch on his wrist that he could actually see and that was also relatively decent looking. Soon he started having difficulty seeing his computer screen, the screen was too shiny, the letters were too small… Determined to overcome his physical limitations once again he set out to find a solution. The result was “Zoomtext keyboard”, a tool for people who struggle to see the lettering on their keyboard. His next finding was “Axos Zoomax Portis”; a portable electronic magnifier that connects to your computer. He also looked into products and programs offered by Microsoft and Logitech. Most of these gadgets were expensive, not user friendly, most of the time solving one problem whilst creating many more, and not compatible with every computer or even each other. He read their handbooks, read about them on the Internet, called in technicians, changed his computer, and changed his mainframe in order to create a fully functioning system. Finally he put in a 42 inch TV screen to serve as his desktop and connected it to his laptop. His current system works, albeit being a bit too complicated and slow at times.
The Internet and technology can incredibly enrich seniors’ lives, especially those that are house bound, but unfriendly usability design makes it very difficult to adopt. Failing eyesight is just one of many problems elderly people face when trying to stay connected in our intensely digital world. It striked me that there is tremendous research on elderly people’s resistance to computer usage and on how best to motivate them to learn but there is lack of research and product innovation around actually creating easier, convenient, user-friendly experiences for seniors.
As our life span grows product developers, website and program developers/designers need to invest more into acknowledging this elderly segment and their primary needs, and create products that help to combat their lack of perfect vision, motor control or fading memory.
Above all ‘wired seniors’ want to communicate and stay informed. They research (especially medication and medical conditions), read news, shop and bank online. “One of the most fundamental actions to be taken to improve the elderly computer and internet experience is to start with usability testing; only then will real insight be gained into what features, and functionality needs to be improved.” Some usability related insights being discussed in the public arena: poor design accounts for the web to be twice as hard for seniors to use, larger font sizes effects readability and clickability, simplicity is key.
Not all elderly people are as determined as my grandfather; some give up. If eyesight deterioration, hearing loss, motor skill diminishment and cognition effects were taken into consideration more seriously by product innovation teams, then who’s not say that our grandparents would not be following us on twitter?
A Literature Review titled “Web Accessibility for Older Users” actually offers great insight into this arena: http://www.w3.org/TR/wai-age-literature/#lhtae. Please check it out if you want to learn about creating “Wired Senior” friendly experiences.