Your website is a critical piece of the communication puzzle. It’s one of the best venues you have to convey information to your audience. But how accessible is your website? If your target audience includes seniors but your site isn’t optimized for elderly viewers, something needs to change.
Why Accessibility Matters
Why do seniors matter? After all, the tech world is so focused on millennials and young adults, the elderly members of our population almost seem to be an afterthought – which ends up being detrimental.
According to the National Institute on Aging, seniors are the fastest growing group of internet users, especially as baby boomers grow older. For seniors, the most commonly used internet technology is email, but they’re also avid web searchers. Topics of interest include health, financial, and religious information.
As a designer, failing to optimize your site for elderly readers isn’t just a problem of alienation; it can also be an issue of safety. According to one study, over 45 percent of seniors indicated feeling uncomfortable trying an alternate option if their first attempt to seek online resources didn’t work.
Optimizing for usability, then, can save lives. Here’s an example. If a senior is searching for legal help to address a case of nursing home abuse, an unreadable website could preclude him or her from receiving necessary services.
Elements of Accessible Design
As designers, we’re accustomed to focusing on elements like good navigation, plenty of whitespace, and optimum readability in addition to creating an overall aesthetically pleasing design. Did you know these factors are also components of accessibility? Simply put, if a website isn’t readable or navigable, the information conveyed is impossible to access. This ends up being even truer for seniors.
- Text. It’s no secret that our ability to see well declines as we age. If you’re targeting seniors, avoid font sizes smaller than 16 pixels, and allow visitors to adjust the font size themselves with a clear button for enlarging or minimizing text. Pay attention to contrast ratios, ensuring that the text stands apart from the background. Before your site goes live, test it using a screen reader to make sure visually impaired individuals can still access the content.
- Navigation. Seniors easily lose track of pages they’ve visited previously when sites don’t clearly distinguish between navigation elements. Links and calls to action should be big, obvious, descriptive, and easy to click. Use different colors to aid navigation, such as displaying active hyperlinks in one color and visited links in another color.
Overall, the site structure should be simple, straightforward, and logically organized. Use the same symbols and icons throughout the site, and avoid features that could be distracting, like popups and irrelevant visuals.
- Content. The rules of writing scannable content apply here, but you should also pay attention to tone. Break information into shorter sections to ensure readability. When targeting seniors, avoid technical and jargon-y language.
To minimize confusion, always use active, positive voice – especially if you’re writing instructions. This will put the focus on the action you’re outlining. Avoid words that have negative meaning, like “forget” or “unless.” When in doubt, rewrite your sentence using a positive word.
This way, an instruction like “Don’t forget to take your medicine” will become “Always remember to take your medicine” – which is much clearer, because it’s both specific and direct.
Not every industry needs to make this their prime focus, but if you provide services to seniors, it’s important to take these considerations into account. While elements of design for seniors may seem complicated, you’re ultimately doing your readers a disservice if you fail to optimize for their needs. Support senior well-being by making your site accessible.