How to make waves in digital accessibility for older web surfers

Recently, we conducted research together with YouGov to explore the online experiences of older web users. We found that 1 in 4 aged over 50 faced problems accessing products and services online during lockdown. Usability issues were found on websites across industries including Finance, Healthcare, Retail and Public Services. As we look to the future, accessibility must be prioritised, by every industry.

In this article, uncover some of the key findings from our whitepaper. And gain advice to help you improve the online experiences of this growing demographic.

3 senior men and women using smartphones, tablet computers and laptop computers.

Surfing the virtual seas successfully starts with WCAG

The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) explain how to make websites and apps accessible. They help organisations to create accessible online experiences, so that their online visitors can browse, buy and access information without barriers. They set the international standard for accessibility and are used worldwide by many. 

In the UK, Public Sector organisations have a legal obligation to meet WCAG standard at Level AA. But for others, there are many benefits to also complying.

Accessibility directly impacts the ability to attract and keep customers. It also has an effect on reputation and revenue. But despite this, research by WebAim found that 97.4% of home pages for the top 1 million websites had WCAG 2 failures. That means that nearly 1 million organisations are failing at the first impression.

Accessibility barriers can be a result of low vision or hearing loss. It can also be due to other health problems that make it harder to access online services or information. According to our research, of the over 50s that experienced a problem online, almost a third (31%) had trouble knowing what to do. Perhaps that’s why simpler visual layouts were the most requested feature to improve a website (with a 63% vote).

WCAG helps organisations to address potential barriers. So to meet the WCAG standards is something every organisation should aim to achieve. Especially given the rise in digital over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that recent internet users over 75 has nearly doubled since 2013, from 29%, to 54% in 2020. Speaking on this, Harshil Trivedi from Tower Hamlets Council said;

"The pandemic has meant our website hits have gone through the roof. People have turned to the website, so we've upped the ante on the accessibility side of things."

As Digital Content Manager of a public sector service, Harshil has already been working on driving accessibility for the council. But in a world where digital has been the only place to turn, organisations are realising they mustn’t get complacent.

Diving deeper into digital accessibility is a must

As an ageing population, and public and private companies predominantly ‘digital-first’, every industry must sit up and take note.

Our research found that over half (56%) of respondents plan to continue using online services as much as they did during lockdown. That means buying products online. As well as accessing healthcare, financial services, and public services digitally. In fact, during lockdown:

  • 95% used online services to buy goods
  • 76% used online services for healthcare 
  • 85% used online services for managing personal finances
  • 67% used online channels for public services

Without tackling usability barriers, we risk leaving those experiencing challenges 'locked out' of critical services.

Speaking on the impact of the pandemic, Hannah Hall from Skipton Building Society said;

"I think that COVID has only brought forward the inevitable, which was more consumers moving to digital platforms. As a result, the expectation for all of these people to be able to access what they need will increase. This will force the hand of those who haven’t kept up with the expectations. Or have relied on offering alternative solutions, such as visiting a store, to those who are unable to access them online."

As Customer Empathy Lead, Hannah emphasizes that “Everyone has the right to access online information”. With this in mind she notes that digital accessibility must be ingrained into an organisation. Not considered as an afterthought;

“Sadly, I do believe that there is still a stigma around accessibility and disability. The idea that it's “nice to have” or that it’s always expensive still exists. And it's simply not true! Considering it from the start is the easiest and most cost-efficient way. And to be successful, it’s got to be continuous, collaborative and evolving across the entire workforce.”

For organisations, there’s many moving parts to online accessibility. From your website and online documents. To your email communications, social media, and beyond. Getting everyone up to speed in the part that they play in the process can help.

Understanding the experiences of older web users

At the heart, improving online accessibility is about improving the experience for the digital ‘surfer’. It’s about people. The aim is to make sure every single visitor to your site can access your information. That they can navigate your website successfully, and understand your content. And ultimately, that they can achieve the end goal - whether that’s to contact you, buy a product or access a service.

Speaking on this, Harshil at Tower Hamlets Council explains that both content and design plays a role;

“The content is so key to the user experience, you directly interact with content and design is where the content sits. The design is the photo frame, and the content is the photo. The design team has to make sure the user can access that content as easily as possible, with as few clicks as possible.”

Many factors can affect the accessibility of content and design. For example colour contrast and the use of alt text on images. To the consistency of page layouts, and the use of headings. Right through to how easy web content is to understand.

To get to know your audience's needs and expectations, it may be helpful to seek feedback. This could be user testing, focus groups, or surveys. Any activity that gets the conversation going, and allows you to listen. 

Speaking of the outreach carried out at Skipton Building Society Hannah says;

“We have invited people with accessibility needs as well as those who are older to help us with user testing. This has led to valuable learning and us understanding improvements in a variety of areas. As well as showing us where we have got it right”.

In our research paper, gain first hand insight into the online experiences of those aged over 50. Discover the common accessibility barriers faced. Hear advice from accessibility leads in Finance, Healthcare, Government and Retail. And uncover a blueprint for improving accessibility. From your website to social media platforms and beyond. Register to receive the report.