Accessibility for Older Users: Part 2 of 3 – Limitations and Prejudice

Saturday, May 31, 2008 0:26 | Filed in Accessibility, Disability, Standards

Age Literature: Age-Related Functional Limitations

Getting older can result in:

  • Vision issues:
    • Decreasing ability to focus on near tasks
    • Changes in colour perception and sensitivity: blues/greens become harder to see then reds/yellows and dark blue/black can be indistinguishable
    • Pupils get smaller so less light gets in (well, I never knew that!) — 80 year old retinas receive only 15% of the light that 20 year old retinas get.
    • Reduction in contrast sensitivity
    • Reduction in visual field
  • Hearing loss:
    • 0.3% of 16-60 year olds suffer from severe or profound deafness; for those over 80 this is 16.8%
    • 6.2% of 16-60 year olds suffer from mild or moderate deafness; 18.4% of over 80 year olds have mild deafness, with 57.9% with moderate deafness
  • Motor Skill impairment:
    • Parkinson’s – Tremor, rigidity, slow movement, impaired balance and co-ordination
    • Arthritis (the leading cause of disability in those over 55)
  • Cognitive decline
    • Dementia — affects 25% of 85 year olds
    • Decline in the ability to encode new memories of facts and decline in working memory

So those are the main things that need to be considered for aging users (and that’s without considering issues like cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and so on).

Age-Related Prejudice

But they also quote a survey from Morris, Goodman and Brading which states that:

the barrier is not age, but the respondents’ idea that older people cannot or do not use computersMorris, A., Goodman, J. and Brading, H. (2007). Internet use and non-use: views of older adults.

In my personal experience, I’ve often found that older people seem to be ‘scared of computers’, as if by pressing the wrong button the whole thing will catch ahad (dictionary lookup) or whatever. And that’s because no-one has shown them how to use a computer. No-one has spent the time and effort with these people to teach them, because all to often society just ignores them or doesn’t reach out to them.

And how is that any different from ignoring the needs of disabled people? Or black people? Or women? Or white, middle-class men? It isn’t. Society should cater for the needs of the whole society, not just the bits of it who are “like us”.

Granted, I can’t change society as a whole, but I can try to stir up the opinions of a few web designers to ensure that we at least aren’t continuing to discriminate against older people (although of course the people who have been following accessibility standards in the first place will already have been taking many of the actions that will make sites more accessible to an aging population).

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2 Comments to Accessibility for Older Users: Part 2 of 3 – Limitations and Prejudice

  1. Christophe from little Belgium says:

    June 6th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    The fear that pushing the wrong button might cause the computer to crash is – in my opinion – not specific to old age but the result of being unfamiliar with the technology. I recently observed exactly the same fear in a 35-year old person who had had fairly little exposure to computers (some computer classes with DOS etc at school, seeing friends use computers over the last 15 years, an introductory course in PC and internet one year ago).

  2. Janesa says:

    October 5th, 2012 at 9:12 am

    There’s nothing like the rleief of finding what you’re looking for.

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