This week I attended the annual edUi conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. As I’ve written before – this was my third year in a row attending – I’ve found the conference and community to be a place of challenge and inspiration, and I always leave with at least one major “aha” moment.
This year, it came in the form of Michael Carvin’s talk, Important But Invisible: What the Aging Workforce Really Needs From Us. Starting with a personal anecdote about his mother who works at a local bank even though she is well past retirement age, he laid out the central problem he’s seeking to address: an increasing number of people (22.5 million and counting) in this country are working past retirement age, yet their needs are seldom taken into account in system implementation or design.
As an archivist, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that so many people are working past retirement age. The great non-retirement of the baby boomers – for reasons including a desire to stay connected, to continue to be productive members of society, or because of financial need – is an ongoing development in our profession and beyond that has been well-documented and discussed. What hit home for me was that these users often are, as the title of the presentation indicated, invisible, especially when it comes to thinking about what kinds of systems we’ll implement and how those systems might impact older users.
Mike suggested a couple of ways we can change this, starting with an awareness of how our systems and design choices affect older users, but also an awareness of how our organizations are impacted by ignoring these users. He also advocated better understanding of what happens to our bodies, minds, earning power and social circles as we age. As one part of this, he had a few simple physical props that simulated mild visual disabilities or restricted hand motion due to arthritis. Wearing these simple devices and trying to interact with one’s phone or laptop brought home the impact of aging pretty dramatically. Finally, he advocated a greater sense of empathy, something I’ve written about before on this blog, but something I’ve all too often failed to apply in real life.