As a speech pathologist, I have worked with people in all stages of life — literally from birth to death. When I became involved in the tech industry, I was amazed by the power of technology in the lives of people with health conditions and disabilities.
When the iPod Touch was released, I began using it with my senior patients. They loved the touchscreen interface, and for people with communication difficulties due to strokes or diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, it was a lifeline for communication. Prior to the release of the iPod Touch, touchscreen devices were impossible to get due to the expense.
As tablets became mainstream and apps became plentiful, I became more and more interested in the use of organizational and productivity apps with the older population. As we age, we all lose vision and hearing. We have memory difficulties and brain fog. We all need more supports as we age, and technology — especially mobile devices — are the perfect solution.
People born in the 1970s and earlier had little to no exposure to technology as children. I was born in the late ’60s and didn’t have access to any technology until my second year of college when the school built a “computer lab” with word processors. I did have some limited access to a gigantic mainframe computer in one of my social science classes. We had to go type in some code and then wait for 24 hours for the results! I had no idea what I was doing, and it certainly didn’t make me feel comfortable with technology! People born before me had even less exposure to technology. My husband is five years older than me, and his first experience with a computer was in his mid 30’s.
People currently in their 40’s and older — and many in their 30’s — didn’t grow up trusting technology and are frequently reluctant to use it. People in their 60’s frequently have no experience with technology within a learning environment, and people in their 70’s and 80’s often have little experience with technology even in a work environment.
As digital products are developed, it is vital that the segment of the population over 50 is considered. This part of the population has the largest disposable income. They are often the people who need financial, medical/health, and other digital products.
Many of the digital products on the market now were designed and developed by people in their 20’s and early 30’s. They are digital natives and have little understanding of how their target users think about technology. This causes a great divide. When the people with money and need for a product can’t use the product effectively, the product will not reach its optimal success.
When designing and developing digital products with a large market in the ages over 50, it is imperative to consider the digital literacy of those users. It is also important to be aware of the deficits of aging. These changes, unfortunately, begin in the early 40’s and worsen during the second half of life.
Digital products are so valuable and life changing, but if the target audience does not feel comfortable or are unable to interact with the product, they will not use it, and they will not benefit from the product. You will also ultimately lose their business.