Lost in Translation

Surveys have shown a continuing increase in the army of older people using the internet. Obvious, really. Forced separation during the depths of pandemic persuaded even technophobic grandparents to become familiar with Zoom. And even in Covid-free times the newly retired, mostly computer literate, are rapidly replacing those who have made their last call on the landline. But there remains a significant number who can’t, or won’t come to terms with life online. Take our old friends Ted and Alice (their names have been changed to protect the innocent). Dinosaurs, some might call them. It’s high time young software writers paid more attention to their problems. Those who designed the NHS Covid app are prime culprits. As the dreaded virus receded late last summer Ted, who’s 82, rang me in a bit of a tizzy. He and Alice had decided to risk returning to a rented house in their beloved France for three weeks. But the NHS pass could only be downloaded by one person per mobile phone. Trouble was, they had only one smart phone between them. He wasn’t keen on my suggestion they invest in a second, cheap smart phone, and in the event they relied without difficulty on the paper version of the pass, though it was far from clear at the time whether all French restaurant and staff would accept it. Uploading it to the country’s Pass Sanitaire would certainly have been a bridge too far.

Fast forward to less restricted days. My wife and I are heading to the Azores via Lisbon and need to update the validity of our Covid passes. For no reason we can fathom, hers appears in Welsh. Now, she was born in Wales but hasn’t lived there since the age of Owen Glyndwr (just a little joke, love) and doesn’t speak the language much. Call me neurotic but I don’t fancy explaining this to some Azorean immigration official, so I seek help from an NHS digital site, which passes me on to another department with a reference number – should I need to gee it up. I hear nothing. Meantime we try every which way to correct the problem, including downloading the entire app all over again. No luck. The NHS online advises going to the Covid app settings, where there will be a language selection tool. It doesn’t appear to exist. I try on my laptop. There, at the top of the page that asks whether you want the pass for travelling abroad, appears a word we haven’t spotted before. Cymraeg, which is Welsh for, um, Welsh. So just to see what happens, I click on it. And lo and behold the relevant pages revert to English. I email the NHS site again – the one I’ve been given a reference number for – to wonder why such a simple solution doesn’t appear anywhere on the NHS app. Nearly a month later, still no answer.

To be fair, the Covid app must have been designed in a tearing rush. But far too many online tasks remain opaque to those of advanced years. Before new apps or sites are launched, try them out on someone who has come to the internet late in life. Just imagine Ted and Alice suddenly being confronted with our language problem.


Contributor: Roger Bray