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Why tech is senior-unfriendly…and how to fix it.

We’ve all been there.  You’re trying fill out a form on a website or use Zoom on your tablet or make a video call on your smartphone and you just can’t get the damned thing to work.  It won’t access the right site, or let you into a Zoom meeting, or save the data you’ve just put into a form.  It’s technology ageism at work…

…and you are ready to throw the device against the wall and go back to paper and pencil and push button phones.

Why is technology so ageist?

Why is technology so senior-unfriendly ? Studies show that the problem is top down design.  Software engineers don’t actually ask older people what works for them, but make those decisions without their input.   They ignore the losses of aging–lower vision, hearing, manual dexterity, even touch sensitivity—that make technology even more challenging for us.  We get text we can’t see, audio we can’t hear, buttons that are too small to push, icons we can’t understand and touch screens that react too fast.

Most software and device designers are twenty or thirty somethings who live in the world of computer code and don’t understand or prioritize intuitive design.   Young people who grew up with tech understand their language because they share it.   It’s like growing up speaking French, versus having to learn it when you’re 70.  You will simply never be as adept.

What to do about it 

Despite all these difficulties we seniors are not giving up.   We’re determined to learn.   70% of seniors are now online.   We’re using technology in bigger and bigger numbers, and depending it on more.

Since designers are not making tech easy for us, we need to figure out our own workarounds. Here are some “hacks” that don’t involve calling a grandchild.

  • Use a stylus  on your phone.   A simple stylus that costs a couple of dollars can make huge difference in the accuracy and ease of inputting text on a touch screen—phone or tablet.  Or buy a phone with a built-in stylus.  I love my Samsung Galaxy Note 9.
  • Swype don’t type. You will never have the agility to type with your thumbs like the kids do. But you have a secret weapon—Swyping—which lets you slide your finger or preferably stylus from one letter to another and the phone will do the typing for you.  Here’s a tutorial.
  • Use voice dictation for texting. Most phones have very accurate voice to text capabilities these days.
  • Get an external speaker or use headphones.   The audio on phones, tablets and computers can be inaudible.
  • Enlarge the font on whatever screen you’re using.  Here’s how on Android.  And on Apple devices.
  • When in doubt, reboot. It’s amazing how many issues will disappear when you turn off your device and restart it.
  • Find a computer consultant to call when you hit a wall.   Here’s a list of the top-rated services.

Even though ageism is alive and well in technology–and shows no signs of going away soon—we don’t have to accept having our needs ignored.  We can and should keep demanding better solutions.   Write to companies and complain about their senior-unfriendly policies.  Patronize companies who at least attempt to produce more senior-friendly tech.   The more of us who speak up, the more likely it is we’ll be heard.

Want to learn more about how to master tech? Check out this article with other tech solutions for older people here, and try one of Senior Planet’s ongoing classes in technology (among other topics) here.

 

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