Investigación · 23 December 2021

Web design and development for a long-lived society

All technology needs a user interface and to be accessible so that users can maximise its performance and interact with it. Whether it is very complex software reserved for engineers, the dashboard of a car or a simple website where we are asked to fill in a basic form, accessibility is a key element. And it is this last point that we are going to deal with in this article: web accessibility for older people. 

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What is accessibility?

We normally associate the word accessibility with all those tools for improving architectural barriers that facilitate the development of everyday tasks for people with some kind of physical or cognitive disability. Accessibility is also a much broader term that can also be applied to the field of technology and the information society. According to the RAE / DEJ (Real Academia de la Lengua) in its second meaning "accessibility" is the "condition that environments, products and services must fulfil so that they are understandable, usable and practicable for all citizens, including people with disabilities". Following the above definition, we will focus on two concepts: "all citizens" and "information society". There is no need to explain that the web has become a basic support, on which we consume huge amounts of information and is also a tool for more and more everyday procedures, whether for leisure and/or administrative purposes. 

Web accessibility and the growth of the information society

People aged 65 and over, belonging to a generation that has grown up without the web as an everyday tool and are not entirely familiar with its use, find a significant lack of accessible design in this environment, which makes it difficult to interact with applications and websites either through a computer or another device, whether mobile or tablet, making it a tedious task. Is this only due to a lack of familiarity or also to a lack of adaptation of the support to this segment of the population? The growth of the information society is so fast that in most cases, there is no time to adapt the content and the container medium (web) to the necessary measures to meet accessibility standards. A lack of content hierarchy and comprehensible interaction is evident in many web pages, making navigation and the most basic tasks difficult. The development of truly accessible websites is not easy, fast or immediate. In recent years, quantity rather than quality has been increasingly rewarded in web development, generating an upward trend of leaving aside many good practices that would make the web environment a much more accessible and coherent place. 

A great example of a highly accessible website is the BBC iPlayer, the BBC's streaming service. Its design stands out, not only for using the BBC's global GEL style guide, but also for its easy navigation, contrasting colours, logical and orderly buttons and hierarchical content hierarchy.

Currently, both public and private companies are making efforts to adapt their websites to people with, for example, visual disabilities, offering tools to increase the size of the text or to alter the colours and contrast of the screen. Within the framework of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) you can find tools and a complete guide on how to develop and improve web accessibility, representing the development standard.

Cover image of the W3C website

Where does the senior world fit into this equation? 

Recent studies have shown that older people are using the web more and more, and as the years go by many skills are reduced. Eyesight, the ability to operate a mouse or phone and even memory are diminished and this has a direct influence on how older people experience surfing the web. The language used, the size of fonts, the layout of elements in navigation bars and icons is also crucial to ensure a good experience. But we should not reduce it to just a few components.

The Nielsen Norman Group has published a comprehensive guide on how to design websites and applications for the senior world "UX Design for Seniors (Ages 65 and older)". This guide, based on their studies and research on usability, covers everything from the history of the internet to how to adapt social media content for seniors. 

From our perspective, there is a need for greater awareness of the need to gradually adapt websites for optimal access and use by the senior population. As we said at the beginning, every time, attempts are made to apply these measures, although it is not an easy task. However, it can be observed that in many cases it is not enough, especially in pages that require a high level of interaction from the target user, such as administration pages, e-commerce, health portals or banks. 

On the other hand, we would like to highlight that there are more and more studies, information and guides on how to generate usable content for the silver generation, whose weight in the economy represents a significant number. This is a sign that, although there are still many barriers, a change for the better is taking place, and although it is slow, it is going in the right direction. 

Under the framework of: Programa Operativo Cooperación Transfronteriza España-Portugal
Sponsors: Fundación General de la Universidad de Salamanca Fundación del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Direção Geral da Saúde - Portugal Universidad del Algarve - Portugal