Martin McKay, co-founder and CEO of Texthelp, outlines the results of a recent YouGov report examining the accessibility of online services during lockdown
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many of us socialised, consumed entertainment, worked, relaxed and lived. One of the most noticeable changes is the move to digital. During ‘lockdown’, almost every part of our lives became arranged, executed or facilitated by online services. But for those who were not so used to going online to shop or check their bank balance, how accessible were these websites?
A new research report from YouGov, in partnership with Texthelp, explored this issue in more detail. With a rise in the use of digital services among the over 50s in recent years, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), we surveyed 2,031 over-50s to learn about their online habits and ability to access services during lockdown. Improving online accessibility for the ‘silver surfer’ revealed that more than one in four (27%) adults over 50 years old, coined ‘silver surfers’, encountered accessibility issues. This is no insignificant number of consumers ‘locked out’ of public services. In fact, the ONS estimates that there are over 25 million people in the UK aged 50 or over.
Looking at the data more closely, of those who experienced accessibility issues, almost a third (31%) of UK respondents had trouble knowing what to do or what to click on. Nearly half of all users also found that the links in the sites were not working (46%) and 63% of users who experienced issues found the visual layout and design of sites overly complicated. Reading text on websites was also a challenge, with 20% of respondents indicating they would prefer larger text. 22% wanted the content on websites, such as words and instructions, to be easier to understand.
Of the 2,031 over-50s surveyed, 67% went online to access public services. Interestingly, during lockdown, checking on bin collection dates was the most common reason (44%) for this demographic visiting their local authority websites. This dwarfed the second and third most used services of checking COVID restrictions (18%) and reviewing council tax (10 per cent). After lockdown ends, 40% of users still plan to use local authority sites to stay informed about government services.
During the first national lockdown, over three quarters (76%) of respondents used online websites and platforms to access healthcare. Over a third (36%) relied upon websites to order prescriptions, while 13% went online to book appointments. After lockdown ends, 30% still plan to use healthcare services online.
85% of respondents used online services for managing their personal finances during the first national lockdown. 41% of those surveyed used online banking services to view statements and almost a third (30%) of users used online banking for money transfers. 64% of users plan to use online banking even after lockdown, the biggest response from all the sectors profiled.
95% of over-50s surveyed used online retail sites during lockdown. Amongst this group, 34% regularly shopped for groceries online while only 14% shopped for clothes. The popularity of shopping online amongst the over-50s is set to continue post-lockdown, with 31% of users planning on doing grocery shopping online and 44% buying other products such as clothing and homeware.
With an ageing population and a growing number of ‘silver surfers’, accessibility issues must be addressed by organisations across the private and public sectors in order to not alienate the 25 million users in their 50s and over. Currently, many websites are built without accessibility in mind and this means certain groups are being locked out of vital services. But small changes such as including captions on videos, simplifying layouts and ensuring text always contrasts with the background can help. And bring websites in line with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), referenced by the UK Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations. This data should serve as a wake-up call to both public and private sector organisations alike.
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