Far worse than the economic divide is the fact that technology remains
so complicated that many people couldn’t use a computer even if they
got one for free. Many others can use computers, but don’t achieve the
modern world’s full benefits because most of the available services are
too difficult for them to understand.
Almost 40% of the population has lower literacy skills, and yet few websites follow the guidelines for writing for low-literacy users.
Even government sites that target poorer citizens are usually written
at a level that requires a university degree to comprehend. The British
government has done some good work on simplifying much of its
direct.gov.uk site information, but even it requires at least a high
school education to easily read.
Lower literacy is the Web’s biggest accessibility problem, but nobody cares about this massive user group.
Senior citizens face the second-biggest accessibility problem, but again there is little interest in the guidelines for making websites easier for older users.
Companies don’t even have the excuse that it doesn’t pay to cater to
this audience, because retirees are rich these days. Even though
seniors are the main remaining source of growth in Internet use,
companies are still endlessly fascinated by young users and ignore
older, richer users who would be much more loyal customers — if only
someone bothered to sell to them.
Whereas the economic divide is closing rapidly, I see little
progress on the usability divide. Usability is improving for higher-end
users. For this group, websites get easier every year, generating vast
profits for site owners. Because they now follow more e-commerce user experience
guidelines, companies that sell online typically have conversion rates
of around 2%, which is twice the conversion rate of the bubble years.
That’s all great news for high-end users, but the less-skilled 40% of
users have seen little in the way of usability improvement. We know how
to help these users — we’re simply not doing it.