How to make websites age-friendly
Improving web accessibility for the over-50s is a case of digiboom or bust.
The over-50s are almost a third of the UK population. They are online and they are spending money – £14.45 billion on the web in 2015 alone. 76% shop online at least once a week. The over 50s (or digiboomers) are an affluent generation too, and own almost 70% of all household wealth in the UK.
Tapping into the digiboomer market isn’t just a case of throwing up a few pictures of youthful looking older people. It also means making your website accessible for this demographic.
We change as we grow older. There are four main categories where this change is evident: visual impairments, hearing, fine motor control and cognitive ability, and they all have an impact on how older people interact with websites.
However, you can design webpages to be digiboomer-friendly. At Test Partners, we have over 100 checks we can use to assess a webpage. The following overview should get you thinking in the right direction.
Peak eyesight is around 30 years old. After the age of 40, many people’s sight is noticeably worse. Presbyopia—commonly known as age-related long sightedness—is just one of the issues that can affect the digiboomer. Less well known is that aging also reduces colour perception and colour sensitivity.
If you want to make sure that a digiboomer has a good experience on your website, make sure that the text size is at least 12pt and make sure that the colour contrast between the text and the background is clear.
When it comes to hearing, Action on Hearing Loss (formally the RNID) says that hearing loss begins to increase sharply at around the age of 50, and that 55% of people over 60 are deaf or hard of hearing.
If you have audio or video content on your website, make sure that there isn’t too much background noise, that they are subtitled (or closed captioned) accurately, or that a transcript is provided.
Fine motor control
Fine motor control and hand-eye coordination also diminish over time. A variety of ailments that can have an impact on fine motor control, such as arthritis, can start in the late forties.
Things you can do to make your website easier to use include making sure that clickable links and buttons have a clear clickable area and are spaced far apart, and that pages can be navigated using just the keyboard. It helps if there isn’t too much functionality requiring a steady hand, like hovering over elements to reveal help pop-ups.
As we get older, we become more conservative on websites—one study showed that 45% of older people interviewed were reluctant to try new things or explore a website. Interactions tend to be slow and methodical. Older people are twice as likely to abandon a task as someone under 30 years of age.
Make sure that your website is as simple to understand and use as possible. Use plain English, and keep the acronyms and jargon to a minimum. Try not to have too many components that can be distracting, like automatically changing carousels.
It goes without saying that digiboomers and seniors are not universally affected by any of these considerations. There are plenty of people in this demographic who do not exhibit any of these issues. But by ensuring your website is age-friendly, you’ll be giving yourself a much better chance of tapping into this market.
For more on improving accessibility on the web, check out our guide to designing websites for blind and partially sighted people.
Is your website age-friendly?
To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), Test Partners have prepared an introductory brochure about the digiboomer generation and their digital accessibility needs. Visit their site to find out more.
Paul is Head of Accessibility and Digital Inclusion at Test Partners, specialising in technical accessibility testing and user testing. He has audited hundreds of websites from all sectors, including government, commerce and charity. For more than a year, he authored BBC Access 2.0, a blog on disability and technology, and has written for other publications including Ability Magazine.
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