Tech manufacturers must do more to simplify computers for the elderly, says Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has called on tech manufacturers to make their products easier to use, in order to help more elderly people get online.
Duncan Smith made the comments during a speech at the Digital Unite Silver Surfer Awards, in response to the issue that many elderly people are put off from joining the online world, because of the complexity of the technology involved.
Indeed, Duncan Smith used the speech to challenge technology manufacturers to consider the needs of older people when designing electronic gadgets and computers. He also said that tech makers are often guilty of assuming that everyone knows how to use their products.
Duncan Smith was quoted by the Telegraph as saying that manufacturers “sometimes assume that everyone out there is expert at computer use”.
“What we may need for some older people is a much simpler interface to get online; the challenge is out there to companies and providers to look at the potential marketplace for better and easier to use equipment,” he is reported to have said.
“It may need some rethink about some of the hardware that is out there,” Duncan Smith told the audience. He also apparently suggested “some sort of simpler interface for people who are not going to spend all their time surfing.”
Duncan Smith also said there would be a £22 billion benefit to the UK economy if everybody was online.
There are currently 9 million Britons who aren’t yet online yet, and of that number, 6.4 million are thought to be over the age of 65.
In December a research paper from Ofcom found that the over-65s are gradually coming online, and they are proving to be one of the fastest growing population segments for broadband uptake. Indeed, Ofcom found at that time that while the number of new broadband connections only increased by three percent in the UK in 2010, it rose nine percent for the 65-74 age group and eight percent among over 75-year olds.
These age groups, commonly referred to as ‘Silver Surfers’, are being actively encouraged to get involved with web technologies. This is because the Internet is being used increasingly by the government and local councils for providing online services.
Last October a week-long national drive, dubbed the UK Get Online Week, was launched and led by UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox, in an effort to persuade Internet novices to try out and use the World Wide Web.
In January the government announced it would be offering a complete computing package for under £100, part of Lane Fox’s Race Online 2012 campaign. The £98 package includes flat-screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, warranty, telephone helpline and delivery. The computers, refurbished by Remploy, will run open source software including Linux.
Despite these initiatives however, an independent study commissioned by Fujitsu in July found that silver surfers are being left behind as local authorities move their services online. In a survey of 1,000 people aged 60 or over, only 15 percent said they had used a local council website to find information, and 65 percent said they would be in trouble if local council services were only provided on the Internet.