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Elderly and disabled travellers let down by mobile technology

A report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology highlights a missed opportunity to use mobile technology to keep elderly and disabled people on the move

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has urged mobile providers and app developers to try to encourage older and disabled people to use mobile technology to help them get around.

In a report entitled Meeting the needs of older and disabled travellers, the IET said more than 80% of over-60s do not use journey-planning websites, apps or information services, and called for a fresh approach to developing and marketing these services.

The IET highlighted that there was little or no awareness among older people – and many disabled people – of the potential benefits of travel information services delivered to mobile devices.

The quality of such services has improved immensely in recent years, it pointed out, with the use of 4G networks to deliver fast, responsive transport information, connecting data from different public transport nodes to provide all-encompassing and dynamic journey plans.

However, due to lingering uncertainty over potential problems associated with travelling on public transport – such as timetable or service alterations – and the slower uptake of mobile technology among older people, the vast majority were missing out.

“Over recent years our public transport system has benefited from improvements to the physical infrastructure and service provision. The rapid growth in new technologies represents an even bigger opportunity to improve people’s experience of public transport,” said IET principal policy advisor Sahar Danesh.

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“If we can find a way to encourage older and disabled people to embrace this technology, many of them could enjoy fully independent travel instead of being housebound or relying on relatives and carers as they do today. The potential implications for their quality of life – and for the economy – are huge.

“If we fail to tackle this we risk excluding disabled and older people from basic human rights of independence, mobility and social inclusions,” said Danesh.

The report also highlighted the need for full stakeholder engagement between the tech sector, public transport operators, engineers, government and users to establish a joined-up approach to inclusive mobility.

The government’s Inclusive mobility best practice guide offers a platform to inform what needs to be considered in terms of inclusive approaches, said the IET, but at present it includes no reference to how ICT might be employed.

Simon Bottery, director of policy and external relations at Independent Age, a charity representing the interests of older people, welcomed the call for charities, the public, government and the private sector to collaborate on helping keep people mobile.

“Public transport is a lifeline for older people, especially in rural areas where shops and facilities may be further away. Many older people use public transport to travel to the GP or to hospital appointments, and it also helps them stay connected to family and friends, reducing social isolation.

“It’s vital that older and disabled people, especially those with poor health or on low incomes, are included in the development of new technology, such as apps, to ensure these are affordable and easy to use,” said Bottery.

Better access to modern technology could transform disabled people’s lives, by supporting them to live more independently, and to access services on equal terms
Elliot Dunster, Scope

Elliot Dunster, group head of policy, research and public affairs at disability charity Scope, said the digital divide disproportionately affected disabled people.

“Better access to modern technology could transform disabled people’s lives, by supporting them to live more independently, and to access services on equal terms. For example, journey-planning websites and apps can provide information about access and assistance, supporting disabled people in getting out and about,” he said.

Dunster called for a wider review of the law on website accessibility for disabled people, saying that it was not only when it came to journey planning that people were missing out.

“Many of the tools used to compare the best consumer deals and offers are found online. But not all web content or modern technology is accessible or compatible with assistive technology [and] the law is unclear how far service providers must go in making their websites accessible,” he said.

The IET’s report was produced with assistance from Intelligent Transport Systems UK, an association set up to promote the use of technology to improve the efficiency and safety of both public and private modes of transport.

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