Silver Surfers’ Important to Future of ICT Sector – Active Retirement Ireland

Manufacturers and service-providers in the ICT sector need to pay more attention to the needs of the ‘silver’ market.  That’s according to Active Retirement Ireland, which today  launched its new website, www.activeirl.ie.

The website – which was officially launched by Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – will provide information on events and activities for the organisation’s members, as well as up-to-date news and locations of Active Retirement Associations throughout the country.

 Speaking at the launch of the site, Maureen Kavanagh, Chief Executive of ARI, said computer use amongst older people was increasing on a yearly basis, and that huge opportunities exist for the ICT industry to connect with older customers.

 “According to CSO data, about one-third of those aged between 50 and 64 use computers and the internet regularly,” she said.  “The usage rates are lower amongst those aged over 65, but – at the same time – this age-group is starting to embrace new technologies and recognise the value of using the internet.  And, as Ireland’s population ages, the proportion of older people who regularly use the internet will continue to increase.

“Research shows that older people tend to use ICT for practical and useful purposes, for example to book tickets, make travel arrangements or avail of Government and other services.  Benefits cited by those who regularly use the internet include increased access to information and being able to buy or book services and products online.

“However, there is definitely room for improvement – both in terms of encouraging more people to start using computers, and making things easier and more accessible for those who are already doing so.  Given that the ‘silver’ market is becoming increasingly important to all sectors, Active Retirement Ireland would strongly encourage ICT companies and service-providers to become more savvy about what exactly it is that their older customers want.”

Research published last year showed that negative attitudes to computers were prevalent amongst older people who did not use ICT. Over half of those not currently using a computer felt that they were too difficult to learn to use, while one-third of non-users said they could never afford to get a computer.

“We need to tackle negative attitudes and misperceptions, and show older people that using computers does not have to be hard,” said Maureen Kavanagh.  “The ICT sector has a very important role to play in this: it is in their own best interests to demonstrate to older people how easy and beneficial it can be to get a computer and go online.  They need to be more proactive in ensuring their products and services are understood by – and attractive to – older segments of the population, and that they are available to them at affordable prices.   

"The industry only needs to take simple steps to make itself more relevant to older people, for example using plain English descriptions of products; avoiding sectoral abbreviations and acronyms, and providing practical demonstrations of how various products work.  It is important to remember that some older people have never even turned on a computer, so – when explaining a product or service to them – you may need to start with the basics.”

A 2008 study conducted by Age UK – an organisation with which Active Retirement Ireland works closely through the AGE Platform Europe – showed that there were certain circumstances that could trigger use of the internet amongst older people who hadn’t ever used it before.  Examples included taking up a specific interest or hobby, entering retirement, relatives moving abroad, becoming housebound, or losing a partner.

Active Retirement Ireland ran a tailor-made training programme for its members last year, aimed at giving a simple introduction to computers and the internet.  Under the programme – which was funded by the BenefIT grants scheme at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – 115 members of Active Retirement Associations received ‘train the trainer’ tuition in ICT skills, and went on to train a further 10 members in each of their respective Associations.  Over 1,000 older people gained basic computer skills as a result.       

“Active Retirement Ireland is committed to ensuring that older people in Ireland do not become victims of a digital divide,” said Maureen Kavanagh.  “Already, there is a real danger that people who are not comfortable using computers and digital media tools will become socially and economically excluded.  For younger generations, it is now the norm to access information, stay in touch with friends, bank, and do business online.  We need to ensure that our older people also have the skills and confidence necessary to enjoy the benefits that ICT can deliver.  Our new website was designed to be accessible and easily understood by all users, and we hope that it will become a useful and relevant resource for all our members.”

Speaking at the launch of the new website, Minister Eamon Ryan congratulated Active Retirement Ireland on working to ensure that older people are not left behind in the digital age.  

“Huge strides are being made every day with regard to the use of technology, in particular the internet,” he said.  “Simple but important things – like keeping in touch with loved ones who live far away – or more practical tasks like organising finances, can now be done online.  It’s great to see Active Retirement Ireland leading the way and I’m sure this new website will be a valuable resource for all their members.”