Helping senior citizens cope with everyday digital life

By: | Published: September 17, 2018 4:24 AM

Designing digital devices and user interfaces suitable for the elderly is essential.

More than 90% of elderly internet consumers use social media platforms primarily to connect with family and friends as per the annual report of HelpAge India.

Blessed with the demographic dividend and 50% of India’s population being below 25 years of age, the youth segment of the country has been viewed as an obvious target for the dazzling array of digital devises, apps and tools. The massive size of this segment and the immense potential to build a customer base has kept us away from focusing on the other large segment which has taken to digital devices and is growing rapidly. This segment, comprising senior citizens numbering over 110 million, has a literacy rate of 44% and the penetration of mobile phones and internet access in this segment has been growing. More than 90% of elderly internet consumers use social media platforms primarily to connect with family and friends as per the annual report of HelpAge India.

Yet, the older population faces some specific challenges in using technology. Jeff Johnson and Kate Finn in their book Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population have listed some of these challenges. These include elders taking longer to learn new applications or devices, performing poorly on tasks relying on memory, having frequent challenges with the accidental movements with the pointer, making more input errors and having more trouble hitting on-screen targets. With the growing number of senior citizens as well as the increased lifespan of human beings and that most people are always online, designing digital devices and user interfaces suitable for senior citizens is extremely important. The user experience of senior citizens is very different from that of other generations and therefore appreciating their physical and mental state would be essential for designing the user interfaces and the applications. Visual consistency and keeping things simple would be necessary to create comfort and trust with this user group. Large readable fonts should be used to make reading easy.

With hearing and sight related difficulties increasing with age, smartphones are not the ideal platform for accessing information as the screens are not made for reading or for navigation. Hence touchscreen PCs or tablets should be ideally considered for developing applications aimed at their frequent usage by senior citizens. It is also important to bear in mind that it would be necessary to explain icons and how to move between screens.

A sizeable percentage of our elderly population is in good health, and therefore the challenge faced is how to help them to gainfully engage with the society. Digital empowerment can pave the way to get them connected on the internet and provide them with opportunities to share their knowhow or competencies with the younger generation through online communities. This could lead to an excellent collaboration between the younger and the senior groups with the former benefitting from the wisdom and experience of the latter while the latter could be helped by the younger lot to learn to use technology and navigate through the array of applications. AI bots are predicted to become companions of lonely elderly persons, which can act on their command as well as support them for their daily chores. While currently there is a lack of digital literacy and there exists high levels of illiteracy amongst the elderly, in the next 20 years we are going to witness a sea change in their profiles. This group would be tech-savvy and demanding as compared to today’s elders. Hence it is time we start paying more attention to the elderly segment and their needs. It is not just because this segment would have more paying power but also because this will help senior citizens to integrate and engage with society at large.

-The writer is chairperson, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions firm

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