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5 Tips for Building Accessible Web Content for Older Adults

Feb 29, 2024

Chances are, older adults constitute a major percentage of your target audience. That’s not going to change anytime soon: The National Council on Aging estimates that the U.S. population of adults aged 65 or older will reach 80.8 million by 2040. 

The best practices of web accessibility can help you reach that (growing) market. Here’s how to improve experiences for older adults by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and prioritizing inclusive design.

1. Use color (and color contrast) in an accessible way

One 2023 study found about 25% of adults who are 71 years and older have some degree of visual impairment. That may be a low estimate, depending on how “visual impairment" is defined.

The bottom line: Purely visual content is not accessible for a significant portion of users. WCAG contains requirements called success criteria that establish best practices for using color:

As you build your website, think about how you use color. Are you leaving people out of the conversation by making assumptions? Does your website use color alone to convey meaning (for example, an instruction that reads “click the green button")? 

Color contrast is especially important, and unfortunately, it’s one of the most common WCAG failures. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides the a11y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator, a free online tool that tests URLs or color-pairs against WCAG requirements.

2. Make sure your website works when magnified to 200%

Many people with vision disabilities use screen magnifiers or “zoom in" with their browsers. Enlarging the content allows them to read comfortably, but if a website isn’t designed for scalability, it might break. 

Two WCAG success criteria can be used to test your content for compatibility with screen magnifying tools: 

  • WCAG SC 1.4.1, “Reflow,” requires that content can be presented without loss of information or functionality and without requiring scrolling in two dimensions for a set viewport.
  • WCAG SC 1.4.4, “Resize Text,” requires that text can be resized up to 200% without loss of content or functionality. 

If you zoom in on your content using your web browser’s controls, nothing should break — you should be able to read the content without scrolling in two directions, and everything should appear in the same order. 

Related: Give Yourself an Accessibility Test: Zoom Your Page to 200%

3. Test your website for keyboard accessibility

Many people don’t use a mouse. They might have arthritis or other conditions that affect their mobility, or they may use screen-reading software to browse the web. In some cases, they simply prefer a keyboard to a mouse — many developers fall into this category — but regardless of why they’re using keyboards, you need to provide them with a decent user experience. 

The principles of keyboard accessibility are straightforward:

  • Your website must be fully navigable with a keyboard alone.
  • You shouldn’t restrict or change the user’s default keyboard shortcuts (hotkeys).
  • You should provide a mechanism to skip repetitive elements (read about “skip to" links and their importance for accessibility).

You can perform a basic test by browsing your website without a mouse. Use the arrow keys and the Tab and Shift+Tab commands to move around. Does everything work as expected?

Related: What is Keyboard Accessibility?

4. Make your website predictable and provide clear instructions

Well-designed websites are predictable: Elements appear in a predictable order from page to page. When people interact with the website, they’re never surprised; they’re completely in control of the experience.

This is especially important if you’re building content for older adults. For example, a hyperlink that reads “learn about our services" shouldn’t take them to their shopping car; That’s not a great experience for any user, but it may be especially frustrating for someone with disabilities. 

When web content is unpredictable:

  • A person with mobility disabilities may need to spend extra time navigating the website.
  • A person with vision disabilities may assume that they activated the wrong hyperlink.
  • A person with cognitive conditions may feel confused or overwhelmed.
  • Users of all abilities will wonder why the website is working against them.

You can improve predictability by ensuring that navigation elements are repeated in the same order from page to page. Provide hyperlinks with accurate link text and include relevant titles and subheadings on content-heavy pages.

Most importantly, provide clear instructions for forms, shopping carts, and other user interactions. Instructions tell the user exactly what you want them to do and exactly what they can expect when they take those actions. 

Related: Why Form Labels and Instructions Are Important for Digital Accessibility

5. Have an accessibility testing strategy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 40% of adults aged 65 or older have at least one disability. Testing your content against WCAG helps you reach those users (and may help you avoid a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other non-discrimination laws). 

AudioEye and the Bureau of Internet Accessibility can help you build an accessibility testing and remediation strategy. By combining powerful automation with human-led audits and training, we provide solutions for building accessible content — and growing your audience.

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation today or learn about AudioEye’s comprehensive accessibility platform.

 

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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