Over a third of the total UK population are over 50 years old. 23.2 million people. That’s 23.2 million reasons in the UK alone to consider web accessibility for older people. You can plus one that figure next year when I join this demographic. I will be a senior Senior, in name, and in age. Next year I will be the same age as the average MP, fifty. Now, I really feel old, but not as old as your boss.
Fifty with shades of grey
Before I reached forty, I had great vision. Now it’s starting to wane. Like my patience for tiny font sizes on websites or low contrast colours. There are 23.2 million people, just like me. Think of that when you’re getting all fancy with your CSS and tiny light grey text, you little whipper snapper you.
Imagine your boss struggling to read your ever-so-clever web page. What are your chances of a pay rise then? Or your parents, or grandparents how impressed will they be? Think about that.
But this website sells stuff designed specifically for teenagers, you quip… Not so fast, smarty pants.
What happens when Uncle Edward wants to buy his nephew Jimmy a ‘rad’ skateboard for his birthday? Or a computer game for his favourite niece Samantha for Christmas, when Ed can’t read the freaking text? Did you think of that? Well, did you? Edward will spend his money elsewhere.
We are getting older
The business case for making websites more accessible for older people is compelling. The number of people aged 60 or over is expected to pass the 20 million mark by 2030 in the UK alone.
Within twenty years many countries will face a situation where the largest population cohort will be those over 65 and average age approach 50 years old.
~ Wikipedia, Population Ageing
People over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing group on social media.
~ NPR, Why Are Seniors The Fastest-Growing Demographic On Social Media?
Help the aged, embrace accessibility
So what can us web professionals do to create inclusive websites and content for older people? We can think about accessibility for a start. It’s not just about declining vision either. Or old people. Accessibility is good for all of us. Age-related issues overlap with the accessibility needs of people with disabilities. So, if your website is accessible, it will be good for everyone. Now that is a lot of people. But back to the old folks.
Older people, like me, could have declining:
- Vision – near-focus, reduced contrast, colour perception, they may struggle reading your web page
- Physical ability – reduced dexterity and fine motor control, making it difficult to use a mouse and/or click on small targets
- Hearing – get rid of that funky background music on your podcast
- Cognitive ability – easily distracted with short-term memory loss and lack of concentration, Uncle Edward might struggle to follow your navigation or fail to complete your lengthy online shopping cart form for poor little Jimmy’s skate board
Websites and tools that are accessible to people with disabilities are more accessible to older users as well.
~ W3C, Older users
With declining vision, especially near-focus, reduced contrast and colour perception, older people will appreciate it if you could take vision into account when creating a web page.
The key principle of web accessibility for people with low vision is:
1. Perceivable: because they cannot perceive (see) content that is small, does not enlarge well, or which does not have sufficient contrast
~ WebAim, Low Vision
Use real text instead of graphics
You will want to ensure that users can choose their own font size. One of the best ways to do this to use as much real text as possible. Avoid text within graphics. Graphics do not zoom as well as good old fashioned real text.
Check the colour contrast
Grey text on a slightly lighter grey background, won’t cut the mustard. Use a colour contrast tool to help find an acceptable compromise between foreground and background colours.
Take into account that people may want to magnify your web page. Use relative instead of absolute units. For example, use percentages for table widths instead of pixels and relative units for the font size too.
Declining physical ability
We are all temporarily able-bodied. Once we hit our peak physically speaking, at say 27 years old for runners, or 21 for swimmers, it’s all downhill. It’s not all doom and gloom. Especially for endurance sports. Born to Run author Christopher McDougall wrote that sixty-four year old endurance runners perform at about the same level as their nineteen year old competitors.
But for many of us, declining physical abilities is inevitable. In various degrees. Arthritis and other conditions like Parkinson’s disease can make it hard for some people to use their mouse. Tiny buttons or links, as well as being more difficult to see, can be a challenge. Again it is not just older people that have physical disabilities. I know young people who have suffered from Repetitive Strain Injury. It’s quite common actually for people who type all day, like web designers for example. So again, I want to point out the overlap between accessibility needs; what is good for the older, is good for many, many more.
This is another area I can relate to. A fondness for loud music has impaired my hearing and I also suffer to varying degrees with Tinnitus. It is my theory that many more of us, especially the iPod generation will suffer from hearing problems as we age. The loss of high frequencies in audio is common with older people. So, it might be worth not have background music playing in your podcast for example. Even better would be to provide an audio transcript. Which can help with your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
Google is blind and deaf.
~ Rian Rietveld
Decline in cognitive ability
Cognitive disabilities can occur in later life. Short term memory loss, Dementia, and other conditions can make it hard or impossible for some people to navigate using complex navigation systems or complete a long form. Providing reminders such as “next page (review order)” can help. Breadcrumbs can be useful too.
The better structured your web page the better. Use a good heading structure, bulleted lists and indented quotes to help your users. As can good use of white space.
Clear, simple writing
Clear and simple writing is a must, again this helps not just us older folks but people with dyslexia, and in fact everyone. Try to avoid non-literal content too, like sarcasm, parody and metaphors.
My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
~ Ernest Hemingway
Learning to design accessible websites and creating inclusive content, is an art. Like any art, it is improved through practice. It is not quite as simple as an accessibility check list, or online tool, though these can be useful. You need to understand the needs of your users. When you start learning more about accessibility you’ll find that this will start improving the accessibility of your website. Which should reap many additional benefits such as improved SEO, usability and clarity.
In short, more people and the search engine machines will find your website useful. Not just the 23.2 million older folks in the UK. To be inclusive is to be people-friendly. Address the needs of your older users and your website will be all the better for it.