The COVID-19 pandemic has caused staff shortages in many businesses, including grocery stores. These days, it seems like self-checkouts have become the norm. In many places, the days of multiple cashiers with whom customers can have a brief but pleasant conversation are over. I feel lucky if I only see one cashier available.
While self-checkout options can help businesses in their bottom line, I wonder how self-help technologies might affect the elderly, disabled, or disabled due to chronic conditions like Parkinson’s disease (MP ).
My sister Bev, 84, who has stage 3 Parkinson’s disease, says she hates the queues at the cash machines.
“I just have trouble using them,” she says. “When I try to use them, I usually get it wrong.”
She and others with Parkinson’s disease often experience balance and gait problems, fine motor problems or tremors, and cognitive problems. And while the self-checkout lanes can be frustrating for me when I can’t find the right product code or an item isn’t scanned correctly, I can only imagine how the technology of self-help negatively affects others.
Robert Laura authored a recent article in the online publication Next Avenue in which he referred to self-checkout in stores as “self-checkout ageism”. He noted that self-checkouts discriminate against older people.
“A complication is that most software and device designers are young people in their twenties who don’t realize that some older people have problems with vision, hearing, and/or manual dexterity,” writes- he. “In other words, they get emails and text messages they can’t always see, sounds that are hard to hear, buttons that are too small to press, or screens that run too quickly.”
For people with PD, trying to scan items in the self-checkout queue can be a frustrating and even embarrassing experience.
When I visited Bev in Ohio, where she lives, we shopped at a local Walmart. Only one fund had a cashier; everything else was automatic payment lanes. I encouraged her, telling her it would be OK since she only had a few items. That’s when I saw the struggle she was having with her Parkinson’s disease and her age.
First, she didn’t know how to start scanning items. When she had to look up a product code for the products, I took over. It was too overwhelming for her. Bev inserted her debit card to pay, but because her hand was shaking and she was trying to balance herself on the grocery cart, she definitely had a problem. Even though I tried to let her maintain her independence, it was obvious that the experience was totally frustrating and somewhat embarrassing for her.
Dan Glass, who has PD, wrote an article about what he called “sensory overload” and how a number of self-technologies are contributing to his anxiety. He says: “The voices of robots on a GPS, automatic paylines or a phone tree are horrible to me. Really. I will wait in line before paying myself. Besides, the grocery store doesn’t pay me to work there.
Another aspect of self-technology and aging that was examined was how older people view self-help technology. In a 2008 study in Journal of Service Theory and Practice, the researchers found that “compared to younger consumers, older consumers had experience with fewer types of SST [self-service technologies]less confidence in using SST, reported missing human interaction to a greater extent, [and] used self-checkout less often when the option was available. »
Researchers at Purdue University have produced a wonderful report summarized in a free PDF on self-checkout technology and recommendations for improvements for seniors and people with disabilities.
The transition from cashiers to self-service checkouts in stores affects us all as consumers and our interactions in stores. For people with PD or other motor or cognitive problems, as well as people with disabilities and the elderly, it can be an even more difficult and isolating experience.
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