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Developing Websites for Older Adults

According to the ‘Administration on Aging’, approximately 605 million people were 60 years or older in 2000. By 2050, that number is expected to be close to 2 billion. When putting this into business perspective, is this large target market one you want your company to miss out on

Having aging parents, I recognize the importance of developing web sites suitable for a senior audience. Not only do I want my parent’s user experience on the web to be simplified and free from confusion, I realize it also makes good business sense.

Older adults are devoted users. Besides sending and receiving email, older adults search the web for health, retirement, entertainment and cooking information. To help make the most of the web, I’ve put together some guidelines that can help web developers create websites that work well for older adults.

Make Web Information Easy for Older Adults to Find

Computer functions that younger people use automatically, such as scrolling, clicking buttons and surfing the web through links, may be unfamiliar to older adults. In addition, advanced age may bring memory loss, which may hinder the ability to recall the location of links in a given space. Therefore, it is especially important for navigation of a website to be consistent.

  • Use standard page layouts and page templates
  • Navigation buttons should remain in the same place on each page.
  • Repeat the same colors, symbols and icons throughout the site.
  • Arrange page links carefully so the fewest possible clicks are needed to find information
  • Avoid using pop-ups and visuals that are not relevant to the task that may distract attention.

Put Key Information First

Older adults have a wide variety of physical and mental abilities. Motor skills may deteriorate earlier for those with arthritis or other age-related issues. Scrolling a mouse, for example, in combination with movements such as using pull-down menus can become difficult or confusing.

The most important information should always be located where users can find it easily, such as at the top of the website with H1 tags. Also, try to limit the length of the pages of your website to minimize or eliminate scrolling.

Older Users Often Have Slow Internet Connections

Web designers should assume that older adults may still have dial-up Internet connections versus a high-speed connection. In addition, those adults may be using older computers that are slower than the newest technologies the market. Therefore, make sure images are optimized to the smallest possible size and important page content is kept short for the fastest loading time possible.

Keep Paragraphs and Sentences Short

Older adults may experience short-term memory which becomes less reliable over time. Therefore, paragraphs should express only one main idea. Sentences should be simple and straightforward. Consider using bulleted lists for important information or key points so they stand out prominently.

Keep New Technology to a Minimum

For many older adults, using the Web is new territory. For these people, many are learning to use computers and the Web on their own and for them, the task is a daunting.

Those of us who have used computers as a part of everyday life have much more experience on the web. Older adults simply have not had the opportunity to grasp what more experienced computer users consider standard features such as buttons and links, and how to react to the outcomes. So keep widgets and gadgets, scrolling galleries and fancy Java Scripts at bay and instead stick with standard text to display information.

Including Other Media

Information delivered as text only may not meet the needs of all older adults. For example, people with declining vision may find an automatic audio reader easier to understand, and those who have trouble reading may prefer to view a video. However, if using video or audio, do not automatically start it when the page loads as this may startle some viewers. Instead, allow them the option to start the video on their own with clear, distinct stop and play buttons.

In conclusion, with the senior audience growing at an extremely fast pace, it sure is one target market web developers should not ignore. A good web design can help counteract many age-related changes for older adults and make their Internet experience easier to access.

Although this article focuses on older adults, it’s important to remember a good design for older adults is a good design for everyone.

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