Ensuring Web Accessibility for Older Adults

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An older man drinking coffee and using a tablet

Key takeaways: 

  • As the population ages, older adults now make up a larger percent of the online audience. 
  • It’s essential for businesses to understand how to design experiences that support this growing demographic of web users. 
  • The accessibility provisions/standards that make the web accessible provide many benefits for people with age-related impairments, whether they identify as having a disability or not. 

Changing demographics are resulting in an older population. From 2010 to 2020, the U.S. population of those 65 and older grew by more than a third. And by 2030, those older than the age of 65 will make up more than 20 percent of the population. This demographic shift is impacting many aspects of society. In particular, older adults are inspiring change online, and making up a larger segment of the audience for web content. But are businesses equipped to ensure web accessibility for older users? 

As we age, it’s likely that we will all experience some impairment to the key visual, audio, motor, and cognitive abilities that enable our interaction and engagement online. In fact, with age, multiple impairments can develop and present themselves simultaneously. For example, vision loss and hearing loss can present and worsen together. And this can lead to added frustration and anxiety, especially when engaging online.

As a result, older users are gravitating toward businesses and services whose websites, mobile apps, and software products are user-friendly and easy to navigate, understand, and use. Businesses who want to engage this influential–and growing–market segment simply cannot afford to ignore accessibility when designing their web experiences.

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Industries of note

Most older adults today use and rely on the web on a daily basis, and this has only grown more true as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns accelerating our collective shift to digital. In fact, 70 percent of the more than 4,400 older web users involved in one recent study by Google said they’ll spend the same amount, or more time online after they’re no longer concerned about the pandemic. 

The top three reasons for engaging online, according to these research respondents, were improving their health and wellness, organizing their finances, and staying in touch with friends and family. But it’s in every brand’s best interest to consider web accessibility for older users, especially those with services and products older adults are more likely to rely on, such as:

  • Health care: health care providers and clinics, pharmaceutical organizations, health insurance providers
  • Financial management: banks, investing platforms, financial management firms and publications
  • E-commerce: online shopping platforms, retailer websites and apps
  • Product companies (direct to consumer): tax filing software providers, application platforms for essential programs
  • Travel: booking aggregator sites, airlines, hotel and accommodations providers
  • Social networking: social media apps and platforms, email service providers, video conferencing tools and platforms
  • Training and education: skill-building course providers (either recreational or professional), recruiting platforms (for second career/part-time opportunities)

Best practices when designing for older adults

Accessible design is simply usable design for everyone, benefitting us all in varied and important ways. Older web users can derive particular benefits from accessible web content, due to the increased likelihood that they may experience multiple impairments or disabilities at once. To evaluate whether your digital experiences are accessible for older web users, a good first step is to review each digital property with the following questions in mind.

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Can users perceive your content?

Vision loss is one of the most common disabilities reported by older adults. As a result, visual accessibility and compatibility with assistive technologies used by people with low vision needs to be a priority when creating content. Here are some specific areas of focus:

  • Ensure you are employing adequate color contrast on text and non-text elements. 
  • Avoid using complex fonts; simplicity is critical to ease of reading and the perceivability of your content. 
  • Enable the use of screen magnification technologies so that text and button sizes can be scaled up in size. 

Hearing loss is another common challenge for older web users that content creators need to keep in mind. 

  • Ensure pre-recorded media, like videos, are equipped with captions. This allows users who are deaf and hard of hearing to follow along with the content, and is also helpful for people with cognitive difficulties, or who simply learn best by reading. Providing full-text transcripts can also give these users the ability to spend more time reading the content asynchronously as needed. 
  • When possible, avoid using background music or audio in multimedia content, which can be a distraction from the key audio track or dialogue, especially for those with hearing loss or difficulties.

Can users easily understand your content?

Crowded pages on websites and apps can be overwhelming for any user, but may be particularly challenging for older web users with multiple impairments, with cognitive difficulties, or with memory problems. To serve these users, your website should be as focused and organized as possible. This means structuring content in a way that increases the user’s ability to understand it. For example, add clear and descriptive headings for sections of content, and include proper markup for things like lists and tables. 

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Here are some other tips that may be useful:

  • On your main page, get to the point quickly. Provide access to a brief summary of what your site is about, along with clear instructions for how to use the site or application and how to find information.
  • To address different learning styles, as well as possible issues with memory or concentration, design for an audience that might process information more slowly. Try to avoid the use of animation and auto-playing content so that users have time to process and interact with the content. Also, ensure the user can pause or stop moving content easily and control when to change to new images or information.

Can users easily navigate your website?

Operating a mouse can become a particular challenge for older web users experiencing mobility and dexterity challenges; for example, conditions like arthritis. To support these users or customers, ensure that all menus and functions in your digital experience can be accessed by keyboard. 

In addition, given that operating a mouse is a challenge for those with dexterity difficulties, ensuring an adequate target size of elements is important here as well. If buttons are small, some users might have difficulties clicking on them.

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Beyond the physical aspect of navigation, it’s also important to ensure navigation flow of your site or app is clear and easy to understand. To help, use clear language for navigation. For example, instead of having a “Get started” button below a “Planning your visit” section on a travel-related site, label the button with clear instructions: “Start planning your visit.”

Brands looking to engage and retain the business of older web users will need a clear understanding of how to apply these guidelines to their web and digital experiences. But this understanding can’t be built overnight. That’s why engaging an experienced accessibility solution provider is critical for organizations who want to meet accessibility requirements and maintain a welcoming customer experience for individuals of all ages and abilities.

How eA can help

Interested in ensuring web accessibility for older users? We can help.  As your digital accessibility partner, eSSENTIAL Accessibility (eA) will help your organization with the tools, resources, expertise, training, and legal support needed to provide an inclusive online presence. We support businesses to conform with the standards set out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the globally recognized standards for web accessibility. Manual and functional testing against these standards by eA can help determine whether your website design is effective and usable for all users, of any age.

To learn more about our Accessibility-as-a-Service Solution, request a demo.

What to do next

We can help you meet WCAG standards and maintain ADA and AODA compliance:

  1. Connect with us today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to digital accessibility, including our automated and manual auditing capabilities and extensive range of managed services.
  2. Visit our resources section to download free white papers and webinars, and find our newest blogs on industry trends.
  3. Connect with us to continue the conversation on Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.

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