It’s no secret that older Americans are a fast-growing demographic. By the year 2030, all Baby Boomers will be 65 or older, and by 2040, the U.S. population of adults aged 65 or older is expected to reach 80.8 million.
For the first time in U.S. history, older adults are expected to outnumber children. Some other quick statistics:
- In 2019, 16 million Americans were aged 75-84, while 6.6 million were aged 85 or older.
- By 2060, the median age of the U.S. population is expected to grow from age 38 (as of 2018) to age 43.
- More than 46% of people aged 60 years or older have disabilities, and older age groups are more likely to encounter severe disabilities that affect their daily lives.
The bottom line: As the population ages, web accessibility will become an even more crucial priority. Organizations that proactively embrace digital accessibility will be well positioned for the aging demographic shift.
Related: Disability Statistics in the United States
Building an Internet That Works Better for Everyone
If your business maintains a presence on the internet (and chances are, that’s the case), you’ll need to create accessible content. Digital accessibility is beneficial for long-term business growth, and it’s also required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other non-discrimination laws.
Fortunately, webmasters have resources for identifying (and removing) barriers to access. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the primary international standards organization for the internet. Through 2010, the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative - Aging, Education, and Harmonization (WAI-AGE) project WAI extensively researched the needs of older web users to develop guidance for designers, developers, and webmasters.
Key findings from the research:
- 47% of people 61 to 80 years of age experience some hearing loss.
- 16% of people aged 65-74 experienced significant vision loss that can’t be corrected.
- At least 50% of people over 65 are affected by arthritis or other conditions affecting motor skills.
- Around 20% of people aged 70 or older experience mild cognitive impairment, which may include short-term memory limitations, difficulty with concentration, or other symptoms.
The researchers concluded that the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards address most of those needs. Websites that conform with the Level AA success criteria of the latest version of WCAG are reasonably accessible for most people with disabilities, including older adults with hearing, vision, and cognitive conditions.
Related: 4 Principles for Designing Websites for Users with Memory Impairments
How WCAG Helps to Future-Proof Your Website
Accessible websites offer a better overall experience for all users, regardless of their abilities. WCAG is the consensus international standard for digital accessibility, and because it uses a principle-based approach, it recognizes the full extent of the disability spectrum.
A few examples of WCAG criteria that can improve online experiences for some older adults:
WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion (SC) 1.1.1, “Non-Text Content"
All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose (with limited exceptions for specific types of content).
Older internet users may experience vision or hearing loss, and providing a text alternative ensures that these users receive the same access to important information. Text alternatives may be provided in several ways:
- Using image alternative tags (or alt tags) to provide descriptions of pictures and other visual media
- Providing accurate transcripts for podcasts and videos
- Using the aria-label attribute to provide text for buttons and other objects
By providing text alternatives, you may also improve your website’s search engine positioning, and users will have a better experience when using screen readers and other assistive technologies.
Related: Alternative Text: What and Why
WCAG 2.1 SC 1.4.4, “Resize Text"
This criterion requires that text can be resized without assistive technology “up to 200% without the loss of content or functionality.”
Many people with low vision enlarge text in order to make it readable. If websites use relative font-sizes, these people should have the same experience as other users — but when webpages aren’t designed for scalability, the user experience suffers.
Related: Give Yourself an Accessibility Test: Zoom Your Page to 200%
WCAG 2.1 SC 1.4.1, “Use of Color" and 1.4.3, “Contrast (Minimum)”
These criteria require developers to avoid using color alone to convey information (“Use of Color") and to maintain a minimum contrast ratio between onscreen text and its background.
As people age, their perception of color may change. When websites use color alone to convey information (for example, writing instructions like “click the red button"), some users may feel frustrated or confused.
By following WCAG’s requirements for color, designers can make sure that their content is accessible to a wide range of people, including people with color vision deficiency (also known as colorblindness) and other vision-related issues.
Related: Use of Color for Accessibility Explained
WCAG can help your content adapt to changing demographics
Dozens of other WCAG criteria are applicable to older audiences, and most websites can comply with the guidelines without making major design changes. With help from remediation experts, you can build content that works for a wider audience — and over time, more of your users will benefit from the improvements.
Find out how your site compares with WCAG 2.1 Level AA checkpoints with our free graded web accessibility report. To build a long-term strategy for accessibility compliance, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility to schedule a consultation.