Create Digital Products Your Not-So-Distant Future Self Can Use4 min read
Oh, The Changes We’ll Face
It is an inevitable fact. We all age. And with aging comes many changes. Our eyes won’t be able to see as well as they do now. Our ears may come to rely on hearing aids or very loud shouting. Our hands and minds won’t be as nimble.
These are real, daily struggles common to us all. Vision deteriorates sooner than we’d like to think. Arthritic hands find minuscule interface elements unwieldy at best. And, yes, cognitive abilities decline with age. These problems will proliferate as our population ages. When it comes to using digital products, we’ll face this reality sooner than expected.
A Future of Frustration and Struggle
One day, much sooner than you think, you’ll notice that your experience with digital products is not what it used to be.
By the time you’re 40, you’ll likely need to turn up the volume to enjoy your favorite shows every night. Maybe you’ll have difficulty reading websites when the text is too small (no matter how big it is). And it won’t be long before filling out complex forms on your phone gets annoying because everything is cluttered.
We can hedge against the ravages of aging today. Right now. We must adopt and normalize a digital accessibility culture. Accessibility is not just for people with disabilities. It is for us all. People who can’t see well, can’t hear well, have motor control difficulty or cognitive challenges are sometimes described as “disabled.” But we can say similar things about people who are simply getting older. If we want to make products that are easy-to-use, beneficial, and inclusive to all— including our future selves—we need to get serious now.
A Digital Accessibility Culture Starts with You
It won’t happen overnight. It is going to take effort, patience, and determination to create an accessibility culture that sticks.
Start by learning more about accessibility.
Few today are familiar with digital accessibility. Even if they have heard of it, looking at accessibility guidelines (the dreaded WCAG rules) can be daunting. But you can begin. Plentiful, readily available resources online can teach you. Try Accessibility for Everyone by Laura Kalbag for a solid introductory book that offers the basics. You can also take advantage of online courses that go more in-depth.
Redefine your definition of “old.”
Not every old person is a white-haired grandmother. Anyone over 40 can have a difficult time online. You might be 40 and think, “Hey! That’s not old.” In the grand scheme of life, you’re right. But in the digital realm, sites and apps become tough to use past the magical 30s. It doesn’t help that most digital products are designed by people who don’t think about accommodating anyone over 40.
Take immediate action.
Don’t let another day pass where you’re not pushing for accessibility. Go to your colleagues, go to your leadership team, go to whoever is in your immediate sphere, and encourage them to take action. Start an accessibility focus group in your organization, and work together to make improvements to your products. Show the value of accessibility by conducting user testing with people over 40. There’s no ideal way to do it. Just start.
Measure your success.
Gather metrics from the beginning. Find out what gives people trouble with your product. Then compare this with changes you put in place and show leaders the difference in usability, engagement, and satisfaction you’ve achieved. It will help convince them that digital accessibility is worth the time, effort, and budget.
Build accessibility expertise.
Develop digital accessibility skills internally with your team. That might mean bringing in outside expertise first. They can help steer you in the right direction and hone your skills. Whatever you do, you need to become excellent at making products accessible. Along the way, mildly older users will thank you as well.
An Inclusive, Accessible Culture
Accessibility is for everyone. It’s for users with disabilities, the mildly old, and your actual grandma. It’s for everyone who will struggle with digital products even when they are objectively still young.
Together, we can work to make higher quality, accessible digital products that will withstand the ravages of time. And then everyone will be able to use the digital products they rely on, and may even love using them.