Engineering Web Accessibility for Older People

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Discussion on the importance of browser usability and UAAG-conformance to supporting older web users. Presented at University of the Basque Country, San Sebastian, 24th November 2009.

Discussion on the importance of browser usability and UAAG-conformance to supporting older web users. Presented at University of the Basque Country, San Sebastian, 24th November 2009.

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  • 1. Engineering WEB ACCESSIBILITY for OLDER PEOPLE School of Computing University of Dundee, Scotland David Sloan Donostia-San Sebastian, 24 November 2009
  • 2. Outline of my talk
    • Why Web Accessibility for older people?
    • Ageing and Accessibility issues
    • Web Accessibility Best Practice
    • Real-world barriers to access
    • Actions – who needs to do what?
  • 3. Introducing myself
    • Researcher and consultant at University of Dundee, Scotland
      • A centre of research excellence in information technology for older and disabled people since 1980
      • Large pool of older ICT users – as learners and research participants
    • Working in web accessibility and user experience since 1999
      • PhD in the impact of web accessibility evaluations on organisations and individuals
      • Run Dundee University’s Web Accessibility service
  • 4. Older people as web users
      • A growing proportion of society
      • e.g. by 2020 prediction 19.8% of Spanish population > 65 years old [Eurostat:]
    • Fastest growing group of web users
    • Patterns of use
      • Email (94%), shopping (77%), looking for health information (71%), news (70%), banking (59%), (CTAM Pulse report Nov 2009 – survey of 65-74 year old web users)
  • 5. Older people as web users
    • Age is not a reliable indicator of functional (dis)ability
    • Age is a useful indicator of life experience
  • 6. Older people and accessibility issues
    • Cognition
      • Decline in fluid intelligence (short term memory, processing speed, ‘change blindness’)
      • More severe – e.g. dementia
    • Visual
      • Reduced visual acuity
      • Reduced colour perception (especially at blue end of spectrum); colour contrast issues
    • Hearing – reduced aural capability
    • Motor impairments (arthritis, tremor)
      • Dexterity in using a mouse: positioning, double clicking
  • 7. Dynamic diversity
    • Age-related capability decline is dynamic and unpredictable
    • General declining trend over time
      • but fluctuations within a day or longer term
    • Impact
      • Combination of capability changes can make problems more serious
      • Lack of awareness of own accessibility needs
  • 8. Key design barriers
    • Limited readability of text (font, justification, line spacing)
    • Problematic colour schemes
    • Difficulty in disambiguation of hyperlinks and other genuine UI controls
    • Excessive information on a page
    • Changes to content
    • Lack of consistency or predictability
  • 9. Web Accessibility for older people: Best Practice
    • From W3C:
      • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
      • User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)
      • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)
    • From other sources, including:
      • Nat. Inst. on Aging ‘Making your web site senior friendly’
      • Kurniawan and Zaphiris’ Research-derived guidelines
      • Nielsen’s web usability guidelines for older people
      • See also the W3C’s WAI-AGE project literature review ( )
  • 10. Web Accessibility vs Design for older Web users
    • Much research into supporting older people as technology users
    • Older people benefit from accessible web design
    • But…
    • Web accessibility is (currently) not enough to support older web users
  • 11. Why is web accessibility not (yet) enough to support older web users
    • Web accessibility knowledge (and therefore web developers) tends to assume that users:
      • Know they have an accessibility need
      • Have found and implemented the appropriate access technology
    • But these assumptions cannot be made for older Web users
  • 12. Problem: WCAG, UAAG and research-derived guidelines for older people
    • WCAG conflicts with design guidelines
      • WCAG/Web Standards model of flexibility - designing to allow user control of display
      • Guidelines for older web users are much more prescriptive (on fonts, text size, colours, multimedia)
    • Why the gulf? Suggestion: because UAAG non-conformance means browsers do not make it easy to support display customisation
      • So designers forced to choose whether or not to compensate in their page design
  • 13. Problem: additional issues for Web content authors
    • Lack of appreciation of issues ‘beyond guidelines’
      • young developers vs older users, so different attitudes to e.g. security, trust
      • Cognitive impairments vs ‘ignorant users’
    • Lack of encouragement and support?
      • Tendency of legislation, standards and policy to be interpreted as ‘what to do to avoid disability discrimination’
  • 14. Problem: awareness and attitudes of older people to accessibility
    • Lack of knowledge of own accessibility needs
      • Capability change is dynamic over time
    • Difficulty in finding and applying the correct accessibility solution
      • Awareness of existence of accessibility features/ATs
    • Resistance to use of accessibility features even when made aware of them
      • Older people are unlikely to self-identify as disabled…or as older people
      • Social and personal attitudes to using an AT
  • 15. Ways forward: Developers and content providers
    • Web content authors:
      • Follow WCAG
      • Be sensitive to additional needs of older people
    • Browser developers:
      • Simplified browsing experience – reducing cognitive load is the most important accessibility
      • Improving UAAG conformance
      • Remove the browser? Accessible Rich Internet Applications…
  • 16. Ways forward: Supporting changing access needs
    • Accommodating age-related capability decline
      • Reducing the traumatic change in web use caused by the introduction of an assistive technology
      • Capability detection and gradual accessibility adaptation
      • SUS-IT project
    • Better involvement of accessibility as part of older people browsing skills acquisition
  • 17. Ways forward: Involving older people more effectively in design
    • Taking advantage of the ‘crystallised’ knowledge of older web users
      • Involving older people in participatory design
      • User interface paradigms and metaphors that are recognisable and appropriate
      • These change over time
    • Understanding more about how older people acquire and apply skills to use the Web
      • Older people as social actors (Sergio Sayago @ UPF)
  • 18. Summary
    • Older web users are not a homogeneous group
    • Older web users may have accessibility needs – but may not know it or have the appropriate technology
    • This problem may not be automatically ‘solved’ in 10, 20 years time, unless we all work to improve:
      • the accessibility of our web content
      • the usability of the tools people use to access and interact with that content
  • 19. Acknowledgments
  • 20. Contact me
    • David Sloan
    • Digital Media Access Group, School of Computing
    • University of Dundee
    • Dundee
    • DD1 4HN
    • Scotland
    • Email:
    • Twitter: @sloandr
    • Blog: