Accessibility for Older Users: Part 1 of 3 – Introduction

Friday, May 30, 2008 0:19 | Filed in Accessibility, Disability, Standards

On the 14th May 2008, the W3C produced a document called Web Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review.

Well, what can I say to that but Fogey-tastic!

I’m a firm believer in that old TBL quote:

The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspectTim Berners-Lee

So obviously I have a bee in my personal bonnet about accessibility. Not so much whether or not a particular site or page complies with guideline X (I don’t care too much about that) but whether or not that site or page can be used by whoever is trying to use it, whether or not they have a disability or even (shudder) a Mac.

What’s It All About?

We live in a society with an aging population with all of the problem that brings. Indeed:

The United Nations (UN) estimates … by 2150, one third of the people in the world are expected to be 60 years of age or olderWeb Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review [2]

Well, I’ll be bringing the average up. I’ll be 175 by then… and obviously we know that as we get older we’ll find that certain things we can’t do as well — we’ll need glasses, possibly larger text, might find find mouse control more difficult and eventually aging might lead us to something which would be formally classed as a disability.

But that’s the thing: disability is a continuum. You don’t suddenly find that your hearing has deteriorated past a certain point and suddenly you can’t hear. The only sudden thing about it is when you get officially classed as disabled. Your experience is a series of shades of grey… and not just hair.

And obviously as someone with elderly parents (technically, they are both still under 60 but that’s no reason not to be offensive to them) I’m aware of the need for IT to cater for the older user.

That doesn’t just mean providing opportunities for them to buy ‘collectible plates’ with pictures of cats on, it’s about designing the sites that they want to use in a way that they are easily for them to achieve their goals. Whether you’re young, old, disabled or a TAB person, what matters is are you able to easily achieve whatever task you set out to do.

And because I consider this to be an essential component of good website design, I decided to read this literature review for older users…

Age Literature: Introduction

There has been extensive development and adoption of the WAI guidelines for Web accessibility for people with disabilities. However, while these guidelines address many of the requirements needed by the ageing population, the relevance of the WAI guidelines to the needs of older people with functional disabilities caused by ageing does not seem to be well understood.Web Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review

The intention is therefore to better inform the WAI with the needs of older users, help the development of potential extensions to guidelines and techniques, and help the W3C better contribute to standards development with reference to older people.

Age Literature: Older Adults

Okay, they then start quoting people who ask whether “60 is the new 55″. Frankly, as soon as you start referencing this “new” stuff I’m always reminded of the “Neophiliacs” column in Private Eye which takes the piss out of this constant need for the reinvention of the ‘new’. Is grey the new black? Is comedy the new rock and roll? Is real ale the new lager? No, no, no and no.

Of course, what they are doing is asking ‘at what point do you become an older adult’. Surely for the purposes of this the actual age is less relevant than whether or not the person is experiencing functional limitations due to the aging process?

They then look at how older adults use the web, which for some people will probably come as a surprise: they use the web to conduct the same sort of personal business as everyone else.

Yes, they book holidays, visit government web sites, buy stuff, do product research, read about their hobbies and so on. I would presume (although it’s not mentioned) that they’re less likely to use Facebook but I’d posit that’s because they’ve had more time to develop a real life…

An EU survey from 2005 is used to demonstrate that internet usage by individuals does tend to decline with age (from 86% of 16-24 year olds, through to 51% of 35-44 year olds, down to 10% of those aged 65-74). As that’s as far as the survey goes, I presume it must be against the law for people over 75 to use the net.

Then they actually start to look at the important bits. Or at least the important bits for web developers to know which is pretty much the same thing for me.

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2 Comments to Accessibility for Older Users: Part 1 of 3 – Introduction

  1. Mike Cherim says:

    May 30th, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    One way accessibility will gain support will be when people start needing it. Someday I suspect I’ll be enlarging my text regularly.

    I, too, still think TBL’s quote is extremely relevant. Not everyone does and that’s a shame.

  2. Jeanne Spellman says:

    June 2nd, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    My mother is one of the 75+ users that the survey didn’t think would use the web. She recently became an avid Facebook user, so she could see the photos her granddaughters were posted, and post her own. I was amazed to see how many 70+ seniors at her local Senior Center were on-line daily — especially doing stock trades!

    Financial companies are increasingly marketing to seniors as the US baby boom moves into age 60+. The Boomers as a group have a very large amount of disposable income. Commercial companies ignore them at their peril.

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