Universal Accessibility:
Design and Support Considerations for an Aging Population

The text alternative to a PowerPoint presentation delivered by Bill Gribbons of Bentley University, at the June 29, 2005 meeting of Boston-IA.

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1: [Introduction]

Bill Gribbons, PhD
Director, Human Factors Program
Bentley University
Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

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2: Overview

  • Define universal accessibility
  • Describe the aging population
  • Discuss the characteristics and requirements of the aging population
  • Discuss what is best practice in this area - both research and information design
  • Make a business case for accommodating the needs of this rapidly expanding market

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3: A Couple of Stories…

  1. "Harold, bring me my screwdriver" [a story about an older woman having trouble with pop-top cans].
  2. "Lost in IVR" [a story about an older woman who drew her own chart so she could navigate an interactive voice response menu whenever she called the electric company].
  3. "Two and a Half Popcorn" [a story about an older woman who used the popcorn key on her microwave to do all her cooking, because it was the only key that she understood].

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4: Accessibility

Our mission is to provide full and complete access to technology and information design through a deeper understanding of a disability.

Through this understanding, the information designer provides appropriate performance support and design accommodations. We assume that the majority of these accommodations will improve usability for all users.

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5: Aging Population

  • The United States Census Bureau projects the number of people age fifty-five and older will grow by 73% by the year 2020.
  • The over sixty-five population is anticipated to rise from 15.5% of the EU [European Union] population in 1995 to 22.4% by 2025.
  • Every day 6,000 Americans turn 65.

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6: [Untitled Chart]

Total number of persons age 65 or older, by age group, 1900 to 2050, in millions (summary below).

  • [People aged 65 or older will reach 20 million in 2010 and 80 million by 2050.]
  • [People aged 85 or older will reach 20 million by 2050.]
  • [There were only a few million people aged 65 or older in 1900.]
  • [There were less than a million people aged 85 or older in 1900.]

Note: Data for the years 2000 to 2050 are middle-series projections of the population.

Reference population: These data refere to the resident population.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Decennial Census Data and Population Projections.

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7: More Facts

  • There are half a billion people age 50+ in the world today.
  • The world's age 65+ population is increasing by 800,000 per month.
  • The number of the world's 80+ is growing more rapidly than the elderly population as a whole.
  • The United States has more than 9.2 million citizens who are age 80+.
  • Half of the world's oldest elderly (80+ years) live in six countries: China, the U.S., India, Japan, Germany, and Russia.
  • In developed regions, 74 percent of age 65+ individuals are urban dwellers.

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8: Opportunities

Consumers over 45 account for more than half the total consumer spending in the United States:

  • Healthcare
  • Retail
  • Financial Services
  • Transportation
  • Telecommunications
  • Government

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9: The Sad Truth:

Designing for our future selves.

As we age, our bodies start to change, physically and mentally:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Motor
  • Cognitive

Aging is a dynamic disability with each individual experiencing the effects of aging to varying degrees.

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10: Vision

Disease and Age-Related Decline

  • Cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
  • Presbyopia: beginning at the age of 45:
    • Lens becomes less flexible.
    • Lens yellows.
    • Less light passes through the lens.
    • Lowered visual acuity.
    • Increased sensitivity to glare.
    • More susceptible to fatigue and eyestrain.

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11: Accommodations

  • Larger text sizes (12-14 point) in static displays.
  • Moderate to heavier weights: avoid kerning and condensed faces.
  • Easy access to changing size in dynamic displays.
  • Avoid violet, blue, light grays and green tones.
  • Increase contrast through higher brightness and saturation.
  • Avoid yellow in foreground (for example, text).
  • Avoid similar tones or variations of a single hue.
  • Maintain maximum contrast between foreground and background— no background textures.
  • Avoid fine details in typeface or illustration.

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12: [Untitled Exhibit on Visual Effects]

Type Size:
Allow easy re-sizing of type on the screen. In fixed displays, use 13 points or larger.
Type style and weight:
Use heavier weights to increase contrast and avoid type faces with fine lines.
  • [Examples of]:
    • Brightness
    • Saturation Differential
    • Color Combination
Type on a textured background lowers legibility for the elderly.

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13: Auditory

  • Slow decline in sensitivity to high frequencies.
  • Lowered ability to discriminate between tones.
  • More susceptible to masking.
  • Decreased auditory selection: separating speech from ambient noise.

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14: Motor

  • Increased occurrence of arthritis.
  • Decline in fine motor control, eye-hand coordination.
  • Increased time to complete motor tasks.
  • Increase the size of buttons, targets, and sensitivity zone.
  • Provide tactile feedback to confirm action.

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15: Cognitive

  • Decline in working memory capacity:
    • Problematic in heavy workload situations such as decision-making, problem-solving, navigation, and learning.
  • Long-term memory is largely intact, barring disease.
  • Decrease in ability to differentiate between categories and complex terms.

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16: Accommodations

  • Limit information to the essential.
  • Integrate the users' mental models:
    • Headings should trigger existing models.
    • In learning applications, make links to existing knowledge.
  • Provide all information necessary to support decision-making in a single eye-scan.
  • Avoid recall tasks.
  • Self complete operations whenever possible.
  • Provide confirmation and feedback.
  • Support navigation through simple and known information architectures:
    • Employ persistent concept maps.
  • Maintain consistency.

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17: Conclusion

  • Accessibility improves usability for all users.
  • Aging populations will represent a large, profitable market for technology products.
  • The design community should assume a leadership role in embracing and accommodating this population.

End of Slide Presentation

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