Campaigners in Europe, Asia and Australasia have warned that the move towards digital and mobile tickets for events, attractions and transport, which has been accelerated by the pandemic, risks broadening the ‘digital divide’ and excluding older people as life returns to its new normal.
Some event organisers and sports clubs have moved towards a digital-only model while coronavirus restrictions are in place, raising fears that those without access to the internet or a smartphone are being excluded as live events return.
“At the moment it seems that many businesses in the events and entertainment industry are requiring customers to book online or via a smartphone, which automatically rules out many older people,” says Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, the UK’s largest charity for older people, which revealed recently that nearly half of elderly people in England are still non-users of the internet, the figures “bust[ing] the myth that the pandemic has driven most older people online”.
“A policy of this kind therefore risks widening the digital divide,” Abrahams continues, “and reducing the opportunities for many older people to go out and enjoy socialising once again.”
Academic studies have also shown how barriers to using the internet affect younger people who have disabilities: a 2017 study in Poland demonstrated “a significant digital divide” between the disabled and able-bodied population, while a 2021 paper showed multiple ‘disability divides’ in Sweden.
In the UK, the Audience Access Alliance recently published a ten-point reopening checklist for event organisers to make sure their shows are accessible to all when concerts restart. Point #3 is that if tickets on sale, they should be accessible to deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people. Writing for IQ last month, Attitude is Everything’s Suzanne Bull said she knows “of at least ten events that have gone live selling tickets without having staffed access booking services”.
“While we understand the need for event venues to prioritise infection control, we also think they need to ensure they are being genuinely inclusive”
The growing digital divide has led to some countries investing in initiatives to help their citizens feel more confident about buying digital tickets and services.
In Australia, a A$20 million (US$15m) government-funded programme, delivered by UK-based charity Good Things Foundation, is offering free workshops on digital skills for over-50s. “Unless people have the confidence to use digital, they are going to be left behind,” says national director Jess Wilson.
Another group, Cultural Diversity Network, is working with Good Things Foundation to reach migrants, asylum seekers and ethnic minorities. “Our participants come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and while they came here on skilled migration and are educated, they are not that skilled in technology information,” says the organisation’s president, Sabrin Farooqui, who says its workshops held participants become confident using social media, Zoom, booking tickets and online shopping.
Other countries putting public money into bridging the digital divide are China and South Korea, with the latter opening 1,000 digital education centres are part of the government’s ‘digital new deal’ programme.
For Age UK, which is also campaigning for older customers to be able to continue to make payments in cash, events must continue to offer physical tickets in order to be inclusive to people of all ages.
“While we fully understand the need for event venues like Wimbledon” – the tennis tournament whose ticket ballot was this year online only, and which prohibits the transferring of tickets to non-online friends and relatives – “to prioritise infection control, we also think they need to ensure they are being genuinely inclusive,” says Abrahams. And that means offering an easily accessible offline booking option as well.”
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