In all sectors, there is a drive to move services online – after all, in today’s hectic world, it makes sense to have services that everyone can access anywhere and at anytime. Research shows that 64% of people have used online banking and 86% of internet users have done online shopping – the public has moved online and there is a need to ensure that companies and government entities are providing services in this channel.
However, this move to better serve the majority can end up leaving older people and those with disabilities by the wayside, with provisions for these vulnerable people not taken into account. Digital services can be confusing or overly complicated for elderly people who aren’t used to using a computer or smartphone, for example.
A study from Age UK has shown that three in ten people between 65 and 74 and two-thirds of those aged 75 and over are not online. Likewise, adults with some disabilities may struggle to access online services for a number of reasons, from physical access problems when using assistive devices, to issues with readability and comprehension when instructions and processes are communicated in technical or specialist language.
While the convenience of online services remains true, the need for organisations to ensure that everyone can access their services is paramount. While ‘digital by default’ is a great idea, we have a large elderly and aging population; and a study from 2011 said that 39% of disabled adults lived in households with no internet.
Digital inclusion isn’t just about making sure that everyone can access the internet.
While substantial savings can be made by moving services online, this leaves some people out in the cold. Moving services online should allow offline service provision to focus on those who are vulnerable or who can’t access digital services. Organisations must find a way to meet the needs of those who can’t use digital services.
There are number of options here. Face to face is often the best way to manage this. Surgery-style events could be held at local community centres, for example, to help elderly people fill out forms online to claim their benefits say, or apply for help with assistive technologies such as items to help make a home safer or more accessible.
The government, in partnership with a range of people from private, voluntary and public sectors has come up with a checklist for digital inclusion which is a great reminder for those of us involved in designing services:
When undertaking any move online, the digital inclusion checklist needs to be built into the strategy. Through understanding users’ needs and making sure everyone has a method for accessing services – even if considerations have to be made for offline provision – nobody will be left behind.