Does Inclusion Include age?

Tiziana
3 min readFeb 15, 2023

I apologize for the cheesy title, but the question is real. There is a lot of talk about equity, and inclusion– and rightly so — but I have noticed that old age is often barely mentioned in these conversations. Now, I may be biased, but reading Tom Green’s article, “Ageism: the last acceptable prejudice“, made me think and observe. While I may not consider myself “old” (who does anyway?), everyone will agree that I am no spring chicken.

Close-up of an older person cleaning their glasses. A quote next to them says: ”Inside any older person there is a younger person who is wondering what the hell happened”
Original image from Unsplash.com. Design from tdag design

We often talk about how unethical it is to exclude a group of customers with our design, yet, we are surrounded by products that are not accessible to older customers: text that is impossibly small to read, dark modes that can’t be changed to light, poor contrast, medicine bottles that are impossible to open (at least in US), buttons so small it is difficult to click on them …even though I think the last one affects everyone.

All –ism should be eliminated, and as someone who grew up in the 80s (here it is, aging myself), and who is a privileged white woman (whose -ism can be shrugged off for the most part) labels don’t offend me much: in fact it is great to defy expectation. However, beside being wrong and unethical, ignoring the older generation is just a poor business decision. The amount of people over 40s is increasing rapidly, including now some “elder Millennials”, and it is foolish not to cater to this large and affluent group.

Besides: look around you. 60 and often 70 years olds are not sitting in a rocking chair, knitting for their grandchildren: they are traveling, dating, eating out, going off to adventures. They are not all frail, incapable and unable to use technology: in fact, some of our older people are the ones who CREATED the internet in the first place:
Ted Nelson (b.1937), Sir Tim Berners-Lee (b. 1955), Robert Cailliau(b. 1947). (Look them up. source: Wikipedia — List of Internet pioneers)

A boom-box is in the foreground, behind it a blurry person lying down. A green-gray background has a pattern created by semi-transparent song titles. The text reads: “ I am not too old, it is your music that sucks”
Original image from Unsplash.com. Design from tdag design

Still, there are barely any companies dedicated to creating products, digital and not, for our elders. Have you ever looked at walkers or wheelchairs? Tools, by the way, used by many more groups that just the elderly. I know my dad refused to get one, even if it was necessary, for more than a year because of the stigma associated with it, and for its poor design.

Barry Rueger wrote about it in 2019. Don Norman talked about this issue more than two years ago, and nothing really have changed. We create fashionable strollers for our babies, why not design with the same care for our elderly?

If this were only a product design issue, a joke in poor taste, or a superficial stereotype, it would not be such a big deal; unfortunately, it influences many aspects of life including employment opportunities. And with AI taking a more important role in our world, we need to ask: what data are we feeding into it? Algorithms have already demonstrated a multitude of biases, and of course, they resemble their creators: white, young guys, from a developed country.

I don’t have a solution, except to include members of all ages during co-designing sessions, and to be aware of needs and desires for this under-served group. Also, just like we started to include more professional women in stock photos, and real workplaces, maybe we could do the same for older people. Let’s show images of work environment with all sort of individuals, of all ages and let’s normalize multiple generations working together, yes, even in tech. Only by eliminating the stigma we will have access to this huge source of knowledge, experience and skills that are too often overlooked.

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Originally published at https://ethicaldesignnetwork.com on February 15, 2023.

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Tiziana

UX Psychologist and ethical interactive designer. Higher ROI without manipulation.