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Has your organization considered web accessibility seriously? What if you could double your conversion rate within three months? What if you could increase your natural search engine trafic by fifty percent? Have you considered the ageing population? There is a strong business case for web accessibility that goes far beyond 'doing the right thing'.
The Web is increasingly an essential resource for participation in the 21st century: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, social interaction, and more are all online. Older people, who are increasingly online, along with people with disabilities, rely on access to the Web for many of these activities. The Web is used not only for receiving information, but also for providing information and interacting with society. In order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to older people and people with disabilities it is essential that the Web be accessible.
The business case for web accessibility is overwhelming considering the number of people experiencing disabilities is increasing rapidly as the population ages. Older people are becoming an increasing market segment and an important target group for many businesses, governments, and other organizations. Additionally, there are many broader benefits to an organization and it’s website visitors.
Can your organization afford to ignore the older market segment? The changing demographics around the world forecast ever increasing numbers of older people in most countries. In Europe the number of people over 65 years is forecast to increase from 17% in 2010 to 29% in 2050. Some countries are forecasting much higher proportions such as Spain which is expecting 36% of its population to be over 65 and Japan which is expecting 40% over 65 by 2050 [1, 2, 3].
The liklihood of disability increases markedly in later life, with significant numbers of older people experiencing hearing loss, vision decline, physical impairments, and reduced cognitive abilities. Studies show that 75% of people over 80 experience moderate or severe hearing loss and 46% of people over 85 have significant vision loss [4, 5]. Around 20% of people over 70 years are estimated to experience mild cognitive impairment, and essential tremor is experienced by up to 20% of those over 65 years [6, 7]. In Australia, while 20% of the overall population experiences a disability, 50% of the population over 65 years is classified as experiencing a disability . Similar statistics are reported in the UK . All of these people will benefit from an accessible web.
But it's not just about people with disabilities. While web accessibility focuses on people with disabilities, including older people with age-related impairments, it also benefits other individuals, as well as organizations themselves.
In addition to people with disabilities, other groups of people who can benefit from web accessibility include people with low literacy and those not fluent in the language of the website. Clear and simple language combined with good information organization and consistent navigation and layout makes it easier for non-native speakers to understand and interact with a site.
Mobile users are another increasing group that benefit from an accessible website. Users of mobile devices and people with disabilities experience many similar barriers when interacting with web content. The overlaps between the Mobile Web Best Practices and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are significant, and websites can more efficiently meet both goals when developers understand the significant complementary aspects of making a website work for a mobile device and be accessible for people with disabilities. For example, making sure the website is keyboard accessible for people who can't use a mouse helps mobile uses with no pointing device, only a keypad or joystick.
Organizations can realize substantial additional benefits from accessible websites, including benefiting from better search engine optimization, reduced legal risk, demonstration of corporate social responsibility, and increased customer loyalty.
Direct financial benefits to the organization can be significant with web accessibility leading to improved search engine optimization. Search
engines can only read text and only follow links that non-mouse users can
access via the keyboard. Transcripts for audio and multimedia get indexed, and text instead of graphics for headings also helps rankings. CNET reported a 30% increase in Google traffic after they introduced transcripts for their videos .
The overlap between accessibility and usability can also improve the user experience for all, including older people. Increased usability means website users achieve their goals more effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily. When users have a positive experience with a website, they are likely to use the site more thoroughly, return to the site more often, and to tell others about the site.
Benefits can also be gained from good site and page structure, and the separation of content and presentation. Site maintenance effort can be decreased and better coding can help an organization be prepared for future web technologies. Additionally, a commitment to web accessibility can benefit internal intranet users too as many organizations are retaining experienced employees for longer. Furthermore, many countries are considering raising the retirement age.
The case studies about several organizations, along with other resources collected by WAI, demonstrate the clear benefits to organizations who embrace web accessibility as part of their ongoing web development effort. A commitment to web accessibility pays dividends.
So you been asked to develop a website that can be used by older people. This audience is of increasing interest to many businesses, governments, and other organizations as they are an increasing market segment and an important target group. In many countries over 20% of the population will be over 65 years by 2020 - Japan are forecast to have 30% over 65 years by 2020.
In addition to having concerns about security, privacy and confidentaility, many older people are also experiencing changing abilities due to age-related impairments. When creating websites that will be usable by this growing audience, it is vital to address the accessibility needs created by the variety of age-related impairments experienced by many older people. Impairments that can affect how older people use the Web and include declining:
Older people sometimes experience multiple impairments that may individually seem minor, but combined can have a larger impact on computer and web use. They often do not acknowledge that they have disabilities, though up to 50% of people over 65 years have a disability. Older people may also be new to the Web, and have less experience with computers. As a result, many older people may be using sub-optimal ICT systems and browsing strategies.
During an extensive literature review, WAI identified that the WAI Guidelines address the accessibility needs of older users with age-related impairments. In fact many of the usability needs of older people identified by previous studies are covered by the perceivable, operable, and understandable principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and its associated guidelines and success criteria.
Meeting the requirements of WCAG 2.0 will help ensure that websites are usable by older people, but the application of WCAG 2.0 Techniques can be optimized for sites that might be targeting older people. For instance, several studies have shown that many older people have difficulty with forms and other interactive pages if these are not well designed with appropriate help, error identification, and correction assistance. Many studies also highlighted the presentational aspects of websites, including color, contrast, spacing, links, and text size to be of particular importance to older people.
WAI has prepared a document - "Developing Websites for Older People" - to help designers and developers understand the importance of WCAG 2.0 in meeting the web accessibility of older people. This document also highlights implementation techniques that are particularly relevant for older web users such as those dealing with:
To more fully understand the the requirements of older people using the Web, it can be useful to involve them, and other people with disabilities, early in web design and development projects. Early involvement will help you understand real-world accessibility issues and implement more effective accessibility solutions. Making websites and web applications more usable for people with a range of disabilities improves general usability for everybody, including people without disabilities. In fact, involving users with disabilities in your development project gives you improved usability for free.
WAI has prepared a document - "Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility" - to get you started reaping the benefits of involving users, specifically people with disabilities and older people with accessibility needs due to ageing, early and throughout different types of projects. This document covers some of the basics about how to involve users, getting a range of users, and working with users. Of course, involving users needs to be done in conjunction with following the accessibility standards, but is key to making your accessibility efforts more effective and more efficient.
Evaluating your accessibility can also benefit from involving users by helping to check if your website or web application really works for users. WAI has guidance on this also - "Involving Users in Evaluating Web Accessibility".
Creating websites and web applications that work for older people with age-related impairments is easily achieved by addressing their accessibility needs through the implementation of WCAG 2.0, and involving them in the project to better understand how they use the Web. Studies have shown that meeting the needs of older people does not disadvantage other website users, and will help make the site usable by a wider audience.
Older people are going increasingly online but many experience varying difficulties. Is there anything an older person can do to make their online life easier? In this article we look at difficulties some older people experience, suggest some solutions that may be applicable, and give some advice about contacting the owners of problematic websites.
With older age, changes in ability are often a fact of life. Various types and degrees of declining vision, dexterity, hearing and cognitive abilities can affect a person's ability to use computers and the Web, and mean they may have difficulty:
Websites should have the information and components presented in a way that users can perceive them, the interactive elements and site navigation should be operable by everyone, and the information and operation should be understandable. Some sites don't meet this goal because of design limitations, but sometimes people have the wrong set-up or might be using the wrong techniques.
People experiencing impairments can often customize their computer or web-browsing software or apply some adaptive techniques, to get a better browsing experience. Some of the things that friends, relations, or the local trainer mightn't have told new web users about, because they didn't know about them either, include:
These and many more options have been described in a document from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) called "Better Web Browsing: Tips for Customizing Your Computer". This document gives lots of tips and then points to other locations on the Web where step-by-step guides or more complete explanations exist.
Sometimes, even with customization, a website can still be difficult to use. Providing feedback to the organization can help improve the accessibility of websites for you and many other people who use the site. WAI has prepared another document - "Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites" - that provides guidance on encouraging organizations to make their websites accessible, particularly when accessibility barriers are found on a website. The steps, described in detail in the document, are to:
The document includes some sample emails, and some actions to consider if there is not a satisfactory response.
Hopefully, with the tips provided by WAI, and some encouragement to organizations with problematic website, more people will find many more websites easier to use in the future and get more out of the Web.