In case you hadn’t heard, the UK is getting older. There are now more people in the UK aged 60 and over than there are under 18. That number is projected to rise by over 50% in the next 25 years .
And, if those statistics aren’t impressive enough, in 2010, as a group, they spent £111 billion – a not insignificant sum by anyone’s calculation, particularly in these straitened times.
So, it would seem common sense that everyday services and goods, automated or not, from mobile phones to booking cinema tickets or paying bills, should all be designed to be easily accessible to this growing section of the population..
Sadly, that’s not generally not the case.
Age UK is regularly contacted by older people who are perpetually frustrated at their experiences trying to carry out every day chores whether it be doing the shopping or contacting their energy provider or bank.
Automated phone systems seem to be especially disliked. They are hard to use for those with hearing problems. The multiple choices they offer can be confusing and frustrating and not just for those in later life.
Then there are the PIN pads at cashpoint machines and self-service check outs. They are a nightmare for many, particularly the 98 million arthritis sufferers in the UK.
And that’s not even counting the services which require internet access which effectively exclude more than 5.7 million people aged 65 and over who have never been online, depriving them of the chance to shop around for the best deals. As government departments, local authorities and councils increasingly go online, this is going to become an even bigger problem.
Automation itself is no bad thing. Without doubt, in many cases it has made life much simpler and speedier. The trouble is that, generally, when these systems are designed, little attention is paid to making them accessible to older people who are more likely to suffer from loss of hearing, sight or dexterity.
Age UK believes that companies must ensure that they design their systems and services to be easily useable by everyone including older people.
That means making pin pads and mobile phones that are easier to use for those who are not so dextrous. And routinely testing new designs and systems on those in later life.
The new designs are unlikely to alienate the rest of the public. Making gadgets and services more user-friendly for older people means that they will be easier to use for the rest of the public too. Let’s face it, who enjoys battling with a poorly-designed parking ticket machine.
Not only will these changes make daily life less frustrating for older people, it could be lucrative for the companies involved who will get a bigger slice of this market, no bad thing for any business in this current climate.
It really is just common sense.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK can be seen in “Richard Wilson On Hold” on Channel 4 On Demand