Older Users and Web Accessibility:
Meeting the Needs of Ageing Web Users
Older web users are an increasing market segment and an important target group for many businesses, governments, and other organizations.
The European Commission-funded WAI-AGE Project researched:
- the needs of older web users,
- existing guidance for addressing older user needs, and
- the overlap with web accessibility for people with disabilities.
The results of the research and subsequent work determined that existing international accessibility standards from the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) address most older user needs.
Overlapping Needs: People who are Elderly and People with Disabilities
Many older people have age-related impairments that can affect how they use the web, such as declining:
- vision — including reduced contrast sensitivity, color perception, and near-focus, making it difficult to read web pages
- physical ability — including reduced dexterity and fine motor control, making it difficult to use a mouse and click small targets
- 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
- cognitive ability — including reduced short-term memory, difficulty concentrating, and being easily distracted, making it difficult to follow navigation and complete online tasks
These issues overlap with the accessibility needs of people with disabilities. Thus, websites, applications, and tools that are accessible to people with disabilities are more accessible to older users as well.
Guidelines and Other Standards
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium that develops web standards. W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) focuses on making the web accessible to people with disabilities. Standards that are particularly relevant for older users include:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- WCAG materials include guidelines and techniques for making websites and web applications work better for people with disabilities, as well as for older users with accessibility needs due to ageing.
- User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)
- UAAG explains how to make web browsers and media players accessible. Browser features are particularly important to older users who have accessibility needs that should be met through browsers instead of requiring additional [assistive technologies](/WAI/planning/involving-users/#at).
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
- Authoring tools are used to create web content. Examples of authoring tools are HTML editors and content management systems (CMS). Websites that let users add content — such as blogs, wikis, photo sharing sites, online forums, and social networking sites — are also authoring tools. These need to be accessible so that older people can use them.
Specific Guidance on Designing for Older Users
A key resource for designers, developers, managers, researchers, and others is Developing Websites for Older People: How Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Applies. It:
- Introduces how to use WCAG 2.0 to improve the accessibility and usability of websites and web applications for older people.
- Is organized by user needs and WCAG principles.
- Lists specific WCAG success criteria and techniques that apply to improving the user experience of older people.
- Includes references to the Literature Review.
Advocating and Educating
The following resources can help promote accessibility for older users.
- The Business Case for Digital Accessibility
- The older archived version includes the following sections that specifically apply: Overlap with Older Users' Needs and Access for Older People.
- Better Web Browsing: Tips for Customizing Your Computer
- Provides guidance for users on how to set your computer to work better for your specific needs and preferences so it's easier to use websites; for example, enlarging text, making the mouse pointer bigger, and using the keyboard instead of the mouse to browse websites.
Note: This resource has not been updated recently. Some details are out of date, yet the general concepts still apply.