Web Accessibility: Preparing for Older Web Users

We are all aging. That’s an undeniable fact. In the 2013 United Nations World Population Aging report their studies showed that every country in the world is experiencing a shift to a larger population of older citizens. Generally this happens when mortality rates decrease and fertility rates decline.

In other words less people die and less people are born. That changes the ratio of young people to older people and creates what is known as an aging population.

In this article we are going to define senior populations as being 65 years and older though this number is being debated around the world.

Seniors and the Web

Web accessibility for Seniors has become an area of focus as that population increases.  According to a Nielsen study on Seniors and the Web in 2002 there were only 4.2 million U.S. internet users over the age of 65.  But in 2012, that number had increased to 19 million.  That’s a gain of over 16% annually.  Comparing that to the increase over that same time span for users aged 30-49 which only increased by 3%, shows a tremendous change in the habits of this age group. 

It’s important to understand that this trend signifies a change in who is accessing your websites. For that reason you need to look for ways to make those websites more accessible for the needs and wants of this changing demographic.

It is very important to see that the Seniors age group includes a very wide range of life experiences and skills.  Because people are aging into this group, the younger members of this demographic are bringing many years of computer experience thus changing the skill levels of this group.  As web usage increases among this population, it’s vital that web designers better understand the needs of this aging population. 

The Web Accessibility Initiative cites four main age-related impairments that may diminish Seniors’ ability to access the Web.  This aging population may be experiencing declining:

  1. Vision – including reduced contrast sensitivity, color perception, and near-focus, making it difficult to read web pages.
  2. Physical Ability – including reduced dexterity and fine motor control, making it difficult to use a mouse and click small targets.
  3. Hearing – including difficulty hearing higher-pitched sounds and separating sounds, making it difficult to hear podcasts and other audio, especially when there is background music.
  4. Cognitive Ability – including reduced sort-term memory, difficulty concentrating, and being easily distracted, making it difficult to follow navigation and complete online tasks.

How We Can Help

The National Institute of Health has published a pamphlet about making websites more accessible for older populations. Some of their suggestions are to:

  • Use a sans serif typeface that is not condensed.
  • Use 12 or 14 point type size for the body text.
  • Use medium weight or bold type face.
  • Use mixed type, upper and lowercase. No all caps except in headlines.
  • Double space all body text.
  • Left justified text is optimal.
  • Avoid using yellow, blue and green in close proximity, some seniors have trouble discriminating between these colors.
  • Use dark text against a light background or white text against a dark background, and avoid patterned backgrounds.

As an additional incentive, the AARP reminds us that in the next four decades, through 2050, the senior population is expected to double in the United States going from about 40 million people over 65 years of age to 80 million. A PewResearch Report states that 70% of all Seniors use the internet on a typical day. Accessibility is about making something as available to as many people as possible.

As users of WordPress we need to select Themes that reflect these suggestions from the National Institutes of Health. We need to be sure that the choices we make as designers incorporate these suggestions so that we don’t limit or exclude this important and growing segment of our population, Seniors.


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