Are Software Designers Ignoring The Needs of the Elderly?

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"[A]t the very time that it's become increasingly difficult for anyone to conduct their day to day lives without using the Net, some categories of people are increasingly being treated badly by many software designers," argues long-time Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein:The victims of these attitudes include various special needs groups — visually and/or motor impaired are just two examples — but the elderly are a particular target. Working routinely with extremely elderly persons who are very active Internet users (including in their upper 90s!), I'm particularly sensitive to the difficulties that they face keeping their Net lifelines going. Often they're working on very old computers, without the resources (financial or human) to permit them to upgrade. They may still be running very old, admittedly risky OS versions and old browsers — Windows 7 is going to be used by many for years to come, despite hitting its official "end of life" for updates a few days ago. Yet these elderly users are increasingly dependent on the Net to pay bills (more and more firms are making alternatives increasingly difficult and in some cases expensive), to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and for many of the other routine purposes for which all of us now routinely depend on these technologies.... There's an aspect of this that is even worse. It's attitudes! It's the attitudes of many software designers that suggest they apparently really don't care about this class of users much — or at all. They design interfaces that are difficult for these users to navigate. Or in extreme cases, they simply drop support for many of these users entirely, by eliminating functionality that permits their old systems and old browsers to function. He cites the example of Discourse, the open source internet forum software, which recently announced they'd stop supporting Internet Explorer. Weinstein himself hates Microsoft's browser, "Yet what of the users who don't understand how to upgrade? Who don't have anyone to help them upgrade? Are we to tell them that they matter not at all?" So he confronted Stack Exchange co-founder Jeff Atwood (who is also one of the co-founders of Discourse) on Twitter — and eventually found himself blocked. "Far more important though than this particular case is the attitude being expressed by so many in the software community, an attitude that suggests that many highly capable software engineers don't really appreciate these users and the kinds of problems that many of these users may have, that can prevent them from making even relatively simple changes or upgrades to their systems — which they need to keep using as much as anyone — in the real world."

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