Web Accessibility and Our Aging Population
A “Silver surfer” is an individual over the age of 50 who utilizes the Internet on a consistent basis. In this post, we’re going to address the issue of website accessibility and our aging population.
As mentioned in previous posts, approximately 20% of our population is living with some form of disability of varying severity. With age comes the potential for impairments or disabilities that can make it difficult to manage day-to-day activities. One of those activities involves interaction with the Internet, and the devices we use to access it. In a related webinar, we will address the importance of accessibility issues that affect our older population. These “silver surfers” are engaging the Internet in a variety of ways that they may not have done in the past. Some of those uses include but are not limited to:
- Medical resources
- Travel resources
- Government services
- Social media
- News and weather
How Devices and Technology are changing
Increased connectivity and availability has changed how everyone uses the web. We are more wired than ever before. While many seniors still do not use smart phone technology, tablets and e- book readers are important tools for this group.
Many seniors have also moved from the hand-me-down computers that one of the kids brought them and set up at Christmas time a few years ago. Gram used to just get pictures via email. Not anymore. She’s now on Facebook, she buys her own e-books on Amazon.com, and was even able to book her own flight to come visit last summer. We may still assist our parents in the purchase process, but more seniors are choosing their own devices based on their own unique needs.
Six in 10 seniors now go online regularly, and that technology has become an essential part of their lives. It’s extremely important that older users have their accessibility needs met. This can be done easily through correct coding procedures, browser settings, and in many cases may not require additional assistive technology.
When older users are adopting these technologies, they may be faced with a different set of problems while learning to use them. They may deal with issues like physical challenges, conservative attitudes towards the technology, and with so many different kinds of devices available, there could be a steep learning curve for each different operating system and interface.
There is a wide range of disabilities to consider; some may be temporary, some are situational, and some are permanent. Some examples include carpal tunnel surgery (temporary), a noisy room (situational), or a combination of degenerative conditions that may permanently affect sight, hearing, mobility, or cognitive behavior.
Let’s look at some specific examples:
- Sight – reduced contrast, color perception, and focus make it difficult to read webpages
- Hearing – difficulty hearing sounds or separating sounds make listening difficult, especially on mobile devices.
- Mobility – the individual may have reduced dexterity or fine motor control, which makes it difficult to use a mouse or difficulty clicking on small link targets.
- Cognitive – these symptoms may include short-term memory loss, unable to concentrate, easily distracted, and difficulty following navigation and finishing online tasks.
The Business Case
For both people with and without disabilities, accessible website coding removes these barriers. An accessible site is one that everyone can use and benefit from. Nearly a billion people on earth have some form of disability and that number continues to grow. There is a huge amount of talent, wisdom, skill, and productivity wasted when people with disabilities are unable to participate in the process.
Leadership, marketing, designers, developers, and legal experts all should be aware of building accessibility into the products that people use every day. The W3C is much attuned to this trend and has a wealth of information available online. These resources include the WAI-AGE project, which gives us a better understanding of the needs of older web users, development of educational materials, and a better overall understanding of this issue.