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Developing Websites for Older People:
How Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Applies

Introduction

An extensive literature review identified that existing standards from the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) address the accessibility needs of older web users. This page introduces how to use Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to improve the accessibility and usability of websites and web applications for older people.

Please see Web Accessibility and Older People: Meeting the Needs of Ageing Web Users for additional background and resources on the overlapping needs of older people and people with disabilities.

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About WCAG 2.0

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 includes organizing principles and guidelines, and has success criteria at three levels: A, AA, AAA. WAI recommends meeting at least all WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA success criteria.

A related document provides techniques that include specific details on meeting the success criteria, such as code examples. WAI encourages developers to use the How to Meet WCAG 2.0 quick reference to access the guidelines, success criteria, and techniques, along with the additional descriptions, examples, and resources from “Understanding WCAG 2.0”.

To learn more about WCAG, see:

How WCAG 2.0 Applies to Older People

This section explains how many of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines and success criteria specifically meet the needs of older web users. Although not all the WCAG 2.0 success criteria are listed here, WAI recommends meeting at least all WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA success criteria. Some of the Level AAA success criteria that are particularly important for older people are listed in this section too.

When implementing WCAG 2.0, developers can use different techniques to meet the success criteria. In some cases, using one technique instead of another can optimize accessibility for certain users. This section lists some of the techniques that can help optimize websites for older people. (Many of the techniques link to additional information; those with "(future link)" will be written up with later edits to the WCAG Techniques.)

This section is organized under the four principles of web accessibility from WCAG 2.0: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Success criteria are listed thematically, to help readability. Sometimes they are drawn from different guidelines to address a particular aspect.

Perceivable information and user interface

Text size

Many older people require large text due to declining vision, including text in form fields and other controls.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 1.4.4 - Resize text in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review reference: Vision decline with ageing.

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Text style and text layout

Text style and its visual presentation impacts how hard or easy it is for people to read, especially older people with declining vision.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 1.4.8 - Visual Presentation in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Vision decline with ageing, Previous approaches to ‘senior friendly’ Web guidelines, and Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities - Vision.

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Color and contrast

Most older people's color perception changes, and they lose contrast sensitivity.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 1.4.1 - Use of Color, 1.4.3 - Contrast (Minimum) and 1.4.6 - Contrast (Enhanced) in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Vision decline with ageing, and Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities: vision.

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Multimedia

Because many older people's hearing or vision declines, they often need transcripts, captions, and low background sound.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under the success criteria for Guideline 1.2 (Time-based Media) and under 1.4.7 - Low or No Background Audio (Prerecorded) in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Vision decline with ageing and Hearing loss with age.

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Text-to-speech (speech synthesis)

Some older people use text-to-speech (speech synthesis) software, which is becoming increasingly available in browsers and operating systems.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 1.1.1 - Non-text Content and 1.3.1 - Info and Relationships in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

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CAPTCHA

Older people with declining eyesight may not be able to discern the characters in a CAPTCHA, especially because CAPTCHAs often have low contrast and do not increase in size when users have text sized larger.
CAPTCHA stands for 'Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart'. An example of CAPTCHA is: the letters 'c a p t c h a' are difficult to read because they are skewed and on a complex background

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

Literature review reference: Vision decline with ageing.

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Operable user interface and navigation

Links

Many older people need links to be particularly clear and identifiable due to declining vision and cognition.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 2.4.4 - Link Purpose (In Context), 2.4.9 - Link Purpose (Link Only), and 2.4.7 - Focus Visible in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review reference: Previous approaches to ‘senior friendly’ Web guidelines.

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Navigation and location

Many older people need navigation to be particularly clear due to declining cognitive abilities.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 2.4.5 - Multiple Ways, 2.4.8 - Location and 2.4.2 - Page Titled in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Previous approaches to ‘senior friendly’ Web guidelines and Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities - Cognition.

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Mouse use

It is difficult for some older people to use a mouse due to declining vision or dexterity.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 2.4.7 - Focus Visible, 3.3.2 - Labels or Instructions, 1.1.1 - Text Alternatives and 1.4.4 - Resize Text in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Motor skill diminishment and Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities - Mobility.

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Keyboard use and tabbing

Some older people cannot use a mouse well or at all and instead use a keyboard.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under various success criteria for Guideline 2.1 - Keyboard Accessible and Guideline 2.4 - Navigable in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Motor skill diminishment and Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities - Mobility.

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Distractions

Some older people are particularly distracted by any movement and sound on web pages.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 2.2.2 - Pause, Stop, Hide, 2.2.4 - Interruptions, and 1.4.2 - Audio Control in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Cognitive decline with age and Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities - Cognition.

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Sufficient time

It takes some older people longer to read text and complete transactions due to declining vision, dexterity, or cognition.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 2.2.1 - Timing Adjustment, 2.2.3 - No Timing, and 2.2.2 - Pause, Stop, Hide in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Cognitive decline with age and Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities - Cognition.

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Understandable information and user interface

Page organization

Many older people are inexperienced web users without advanced browsing habits and therefore read the whole page, so good page organization is important.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 2.4.6 - Headings and Labels, 2.4.10 - Section Headings and 1.4.8 - Visual Presentation in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Cognitive decline with age and Previous approaches to ‘senior friendly’ Web guidelines.

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Understandable language

Many older people find it particularly difficult to understand complex sentences, unusual words, and technical jargon.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 3.1.3 - Unusual Words, 3.1.4 - Abbreviations and 3.1.5 - Reading Level in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Cognitive decline with age and Previous approaches to ‘senior friendly’ Web guidelines.

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Consistent navigation and labeling

For people who are new to the web, and older people with some types of cognitive decline, consistent navigation and presentation is particularly important.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 3.2.3 - Consistent Navigation and 3.2.4 - Consistent Identification in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review references: Cognitive decline with age and Previous approaches to ‘senior friendly’ Web guidelines.

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Pop-ups and new windows

Some older people experiencing cognitive decline can be confused or distracted by pop-ups, new windows, or new tabs.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 3.2.1 - On Focus and 3.2.5 - Change on Request in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review reference: Training the elderly to Use ICT and the Web

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Page refresh and updates

Some older people with declining vision or cognition can miss content that automatically updates or refreshes in a page.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 3.2.1 - On Focus, 3.2.2 - On Input and 3.2.5 - Change on Request in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review reference: Studies of elderly Web users’ specific disabilities - Cognition

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Instructions and input assistance

It is difficult for some older people to understand the requirements of forms and transactions.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under the success criteria for 3.3.2 - Labels or Instructions, 3.3.5 - Help and 3.2.4 - Consistent Identification in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review reference: Aspects of Web Design affecting the elderly - Forms.

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Error prevention and recovery for forms

It is difficult for some older people to use forms and complete transactions due to declining cognitive abilities.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under the success criteria for Guideline 3.3 - Input Assistance in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

Literature review reference: Aspects of Web Design affecting the elderly - Forms.

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Robust content and reliable interpretation

Older equipment/software

Some older people will be using older browsers that might not be as capable or fault tolerant as current releases.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria:

Example techniques to consider:

More techniques are listed under 4.1.1 - Parsing in "How to Meet WCAG 2.0".

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