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Seniors and web design: Microsoft White Paper (fwd)

From: Alan Cantor <acantor@oise.utoronto.ca>
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 20:24:36 -0400 (EDT)
To: IG - WAI Interest Group List <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.SO4.4.02.9906192019290.24178-100000@tortoise>
Hello IG members,

This paper from Microsoft was forwarded to me today. There is only one
reference to WAI in the entire paper. 

The "aging population" argument for accessibility is worth promoting.


Alan Cantor
Cantor + Associates
Workplace Accommodation Consultants
New e-mail address: acantor@interlog.com

Effective Web Design Considerations for Older Adults

This white paper has been created in response to the increasing
need to understand how Web-site design impacts usability for a
growing portion of the world's population. This paper is
intended to be a wake-up call to Web designers and businesses,
raising international awareness of certain considerations and
requirements. Together, governmental agencies, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs), non-profits and private enterprise must
work toward the goal of creating usable and accessible Web sites
for people of all ages. Microsoft recognizes this need, as well
as the opportunity for our own improvement, and is committed to
enhancing our products and Web sites to make this a reality.

As we head in to the twenty-first century, we are being faced
with the convergence of two worldwide phenomena: increasing
longevity, and technology rapidly becoming part of our everyday
lives. At the turn of this century in North America the average
life expectancy was only 46 years old, yet today it is over 76.1
Thirty years from now, one in four people in the developed world
will be aged 65 and over, up from one in seven today.2 At the
same time computer usage by those over the age of 55 is soaring.
In December 1998, over 23 percent of all consumer PCs in North
America were purchased by someone over the age of 55, and of
those who use the Internet, they spend more time online than any
other age group, nearly double that of 12 - 17 year-olds.3,4

This paper was created as a result of input from numerous
governmental and non-profit organizations, reflecting an
international collaboration with the leading authorities in the
fields of technology and aging. Microsoft would like to express
its appreciation to the following individuals, institutions and
agencies: Ambassador Julia Alvarez - United Nations, Deborah
Cloud - American Association of Homes and Services for the
Aging, David Dring - National Council on the Aging, Jim Emerman
- American Society on Aging, Saadia Greenberg - United States
Administration on Aging, Clinton Rapley - United Nations,
Jeanette Takamura - United States Administration on Aging, Dan
Thursz - International Federation on Ageing, Charles Tremper -
American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and Ann
Wrixon - SeniorNet. In addition, special thanks to Joe Dobler
and Jennifer Lovelace, for without their hard work this paper
would not be possible.5

The Microsoft(R) Senior Initiative is dedicated to bridging the
digital and generational divides, helping seniors worldwide have
the opportunity to enrich their lives through access to and use
of information technology. By providing education about and
access to technology, Microsoft helps empower older adults to
realize the exciting possibilities to enhance their community,
creativity and employability.


Since its inception, the Web has been a medium constantly
surpassing itself. Web sites have evolved dramatically as
technology has improved, and new features have become possible.
In the past year we have seen the introduction of audio,
streaming media and innovative new design concepts that have
revolutionized the way we think about and interact with the Web.
Compounded by exciting new high-speed, always-on Internet
access, the Internet for many has become a Web lifestyle. For
those who design Web sites and communicate via the Web, it is
crucially important to balance these new technologies with solid
design principles and usability and the understanding that not
everyone has the same capabilities. It is our responsibility as
Web designers to insure that the message does not become lost in
the medium. For if it does, we will fail.

Every day, more and more seniors are learning about the exciting
benefits of technology. As the post World War II "baby boom"
generation continues to advance in age, countries throughout the
world will have more seniors than ever before.6 The
ramifications of this trend are profound and far-reaching, and
herald changes in all aspects of marketing and communications.7
Older adults are the fastest growing group of computer and
Internet users, and spend more time online than any other
group.8 Our society is changing, and the way we communicate must
change with it. Standards in design regarded as acceptable in a
youth-oriented culture are simply not going to meet the needs of
our aging population.

So what can designers do to make Web sites more accessible?
There are plenty of simple things that can make a huge
difference to users of all ages. The first step is to take the
time to understand the needs of older adults.

The most common problem we face as we age is the natural
deterioration of our eyesight. As the "boomers" age and we all
spend increasingly large amounts of time in front of a computer
screen, sometimes having to look through bifocal or trifocal
corrective lenses, it's little wonder that eyestrain and eye
fatigue become a reality for many. By age 65, most people have
lost at least some of their ability to focus, resolve images,
distinguish colors and adapt to changes in light. In the United
States alone more than 10 million Americans have significant
vision impairments, and at least 3 million have partial sight
loss. Over 60 percent of those considered visually impaired are
older persons.9

As part of the natural aging process and longevity, the need for
contrast increases because of discoloration in the eye fluids
and lens. Common impairments such as clouding of the lens or
cataracts reduce the amount of light that passes through the
eye. Yellowing of the eye lens causes images to appear to an
older person as if he or she is looking through a yellow veil.
Another result of yellowing is that less violet light is
registered by the eye, which makes it easier to see reds,
oranges and yellows than it does to see blues, greens and
violets. 10

Most people have a loss in color perception that accompanies
their dimmed vision. As a result, two colors that look very
different to an individual with normal color vision may be far
less distinguishable to someone with partial sight. Color
combinations such as brown on tan or green on gray are not good
choices. Don't assume that what you see will look the same to
people with color deficits.

With longevity, people often experience other degenerative
effects as well. Varying degrees of hearing loss are common, as
is difficulty with small motor coordination, often due to
arthritis or stiffening of the joints. Simply using a
traditional mouse can provide a formidable challenge.

Many international considerations, which may effect older adults
worldwide, should be taken into account if a Web site is truly
going to reach a global audience. In many developing countries,
"clean" phone lines for connecting to the Internet are not
commonly available, and those that are available often have
limited bandwidth. In the United States and Canada, we are
fortunate to have a system where we pay a flat rate for local
phone calls, whereas in many countries around the world, people
must pay for all calls on a per-minute basis. Imagine the
financial impact and frustration of downloading a large Web page
full of unnecessary graphics when paying the equivalent of ten
or twenty-five cents a minute to do so. Many users in this
situation opt for text-based shell accounts instead. From the
content perspective, think about how colloquial expressions or
slang might translate into another language. For example, in
many cultures the term "senior" translates more favorably than
"mature adult," "elder" or "senior citizen."

For many seniors, the Web is a brand-new experience. We must not
champion cleverness over clarity. People who are new to
technology haven't had the benefit of witnessing the evolution
of site design and interactive media. They are more likely to be
frustrated than impressed by the innovation of a site's design,
and they may not have an intuitive sense of how to navigate
through a site. Keep the cleverness where it belongs- in the
content- and keep site designs clear, legible and informative.
The reward will be loyal visitors who are some of the most
knowledgeable, enthusiastic and proactive on the Web today.

This document is broken down in to bulleted sections, addressing
the following basic design topics:

  * Layout
  * Style
  * Color
  * Contrast
  * Fonts
  * General Usability
  * Accessibility
  * Educate the User
  * Links & Resources
  * Related Reading


  * Large areas of white space and small blocks of text increase
    readability, making pages cleaner looking and easier to
    navigate. Bear in mind, however, that larger pages can mean
    more scrolling. Consider including internal links within
    longer pages so viewers can jump from section to section
    with a single click.

  * Keep layouts and the interface similar from page to page,
    and make sure all the important navigation elements stay
    consistent in their placement. Not only does this help to
    avoid confusion, but it also reinforces your company or
    organization's image and identity.

  * Remember that significant resizing or text-only viewing can
    wreak havoc on page design. Make sure the site still makes
    sense and can be navigated easily if the layout you planned
    on is gone. A good test is to copy the page into a text
    editor and see if it is still understandable.

  * Don't limit the window size of your pages. Many viewers use
    large monitors to improve visibility or alternative Internet
    appliances and technologies (such as WebTV service or other
    tools). While keeping line length short helps the eye "wrap"
    easily from line to line as it moves down the page, limiting
    window size does not allow one to take advantage of the
    extra space larger monitors offer when text is resized.

  * Break topics down into short, succinct pages of no more than
    two or three screens' worth of information. Many people
    access the Internet through computers in public spaces, such
    as libraries, community colleges and high schools, and
    prefer to print documents to take home and read at their
    leisure. One huge master document may result in users having
    to print out huge amounts of material just to get the parts
    in which they're interested.

  * Today more and more people are accessing the Internet
    through their televisions with Internet technologies such as
    Microsoft WebTV or other devices. Designing for a TV
    interface can provide a whole new series of challenges such
    as choosing TV-safe colors, dealing with lower resolutions
    and anticipating different screen proportions. To learn more
    about designing successful pages for such viewing, visit the
    WebTV Developer Site.


  * Using background patterns or floating text over images is
    distracting and makes the page much harder, if not
    impossible, to read for many viewers. Even what may seem to
    be very subtle background images such as watermarks or
    embossed logos can detract significantly from readability.

  * Drop shadows on text, often used to give words the
    appearance of depth, can also be difficult to decipher.

  * Choose fonts based on their legibility, and avoid using
    several types of fonts mixed together or very narrow or
    decorative fonts. Keeping to the most basic and common fonts
    may not seem very exciting, but by using them you'll ensure
    that what you design is exactly what your viewers see.

  * Colors that are exceptionally bright or vibrant can have
    edges that appear to blur, create after-images, and tire the
    eyes. For example yellow text is very difficult to read.

  * Animation, or any quickly flashing or blinking elements or
    banners, are highly distracting to peripheral vision,
    especially for people with glaucoma or cataracts. With the
    increased use of multiple advertising banners on Web pages,
    this can be a significant problem.

  * Some people have limited motor ability. Simply
    double-clicking a mouse or scrolling proves difficult for
    some, so make all graphical links and buttons large and easy
    to click on. Sometimes ease of use can be enhanced by
    increasing the size of the area around a link, making it hot
    as well. Never ask people to click on a moving target.
    Studies have shown that the more stationary track-ball
    devices such as the Microsoft IntelliMouse(R) trackball
    pointing device, offer increased ease of use versus having
    to physically move a mouse across a desk surface. (Also see
    "single-clicking" under Educate the User.)

  * Many people accessing the Internet initially do so through
    libraries, community centers or hand-me-up computers that
    tend to have slower modems and less bandwidth. Bear this in
    mind when planning graphical elements on your pages. Make
    each one count.


  * To use color effectively, it helps to understand the three
    aspects of color: hue, lightness and saturation.11 Hue
    enables us to identify basic colors, such as blue, green,
    yellow, red and purple; lightness corresponds to how much
    light appears to be reflected from a surface in relation to
    nearby surfaces; and saturation is the measure of a color's
    intensity, or how muted it appears. Choose colors that have
    differences in all three of these areas.

  * The ability to distinguish lightness deteriorates the most
    as we age, so exaggerate lightness differences between
    foreground and background colors, and avoid using colors of
    similar lightness adjacent to one another, even if they are
    of different saturation or hue.

  * Designers often use a "color wheel", a tool that arranges
    the colors of the spectrum by their properties. For example,
    a secondary color such as orange would be placed between the
    primary colors that make orangeyred and yellowyand directly
    across from its complementary color- blue, which is the one
    primary color that is not part of the color orange. Pick
    your colors from opposite sides of the color wheel.

  * Avoid combinations of blue and yellow or red and green for
    viewers with certain types of color blindness.

  * A piece of yellow cellophane held before the eyes when
    viewing a page is a good test to see how it might look to an
    older viewer.


  * The greatest contrast exists between black and white. Any
    print lighter than black, or background darker than white,
    decreases contrast and becomes harder to read. Dark blue
    type on a white background is felt by some to have excellent
    readability for many communications vehicles, including
    Web-site design and signage.

  * If you really must use colors of similar value, use dark
    outlines to help viewers see the separation between them.

  * View your pages on a black-and-white monitor. You may be
    shocked to see how your pages appear. Lighter lights and
    darker darks will increase the visual accessibility of your


  * Larger type is easier to read. Twelve to fourteen points is
    a good font size for most seniors, but those with partial
    sight may require upwards of 16 points. While boldfaced text
    may appear larger, its readability is decreased. Use bold
    only to emphasize a title or a key word.

  * Using all capital letters decreases readability in all copy.
    While sometimes used for design purposes, it tends to lead
    to higher levels of eyestrain and eye fatigue because it
    does not give the eye a visual breather. At best, only use
    caps for key words or titles, although bold type is
    recommended as a more effective alternative.

  * Don't use any coding in HTML that will limit a user's
    ability to set his or her own font, font size or colors.
    Insure this applies to both content and navigation elements
    on your Web site.

  * An extra point or two of leading (the spaces between lines
    of text) will help improve readability by providing the eye
    with more "breathing space."

  * Remember that when a user enlarges a Web page, text images,
    including logos, banners and buttons- usually the elements
    you most want to emphasize- aren't enlarged with the rest of
    the text on a page. Make text elements large or don't use
    them at all. Also be wary of navigation bars and other
    crucial elements of a page that cannot be resized. While
    designers often want to maintain this control, if a user can
    not read the navigation elements, they will not be able to
    find the content.

General Usability

  * Date stamping your pages when content is updated or edited
    lets viewers know how current your site or information is
    and increases their confidence in your content. Consider
    putting specific dates on articles, or stamping content as
    "New"- but only if you are going to remove and update it

  * Consider archiving old articles and features on your Web
    site, while maintaining the actual page URL. Viewers want to
    be able to return to a site or forward others the link and
    still find the information in which they are interested.

  * Setting up a search engine on your site will help users zero
    in on exactly what they are looking for. Organize archives
    in a logical manner, by year or by topic, for example, and
    allow people to search by key words.

  * It is very frustrating to click on a link and get a "page
    not found" type of error message, so make sure you regularly
    check all the links from your site to make sure they are
    current. Always link to other sites at the highest possible
    level that contains the information you are referencing,
    since these pages tend to change less frequently than
    lower-level pages. Conversely, keep a record of those who
    are linking to your site and regularly check to insure their
    links are working.

  * Most importantly, test your pages as much as possible.
    Experience your site from many different perspectives. See
    how your site looks when it prints. Do everything you can to
    anticipate your visitors' needs.

  * Check how long pages take to download over various modem
    connections and on different platforms such as PCs,
    Macintosh and Internet appliances or technologies such as
    WebTV and devices running the Windows(R) CE operating


Accessibility should be a key consideration for people of all
ages. Some people may use assistive technologies and special
devices to help them access the Web and use their computer.12
These may include screen readers, magnifiers and
voice-recognition devices.

  * Make sure every image has an ALT tag that is simple and
    informative so screen readers are able to identify the
    content or significance of the image to the user.

  * Keep links underlined so screen readers can recognize them,
    and do not underline text that is not a link.

  * Make sure links make sense if read on their own, without
    surrounding text as an explanation.

  * Tables don't necessarily have to be avoided altogether, but
    if you use many of them- especially to format columns of
    text- provide an alternate, text-only version of your page.
    Screen readers do not yet recognize some tables and will
    simply read a line from each column across the page, making
    a confusing mess of your carefully organized text.

Educate the User

We have found that computer users of all ages are often unaware
of the many options they have to control the computer interface
and software programs available to them. Microsoft provides much
of this information in Tips & Tricks on our Web-site at
www.microsoft.com/seniors. You may wish to help them by
providing a link or downloadable document that explains how to:

  * Resize the cursor.

  * Set up mouse controls (including single-click control).

  * Set browser preferences such as default colors, fonts and

  * Resize icons and fonts.

  * Make users aware of alternatives to a traditional mouse,
    such as trackballs.

  * Reduce eyestrain. A seventeen-inch screen and the highest
    possible resolution can significantly reduce eye fatigue.
    Also, refreshing one's eyes with blinking to rewet and
    refocus is a technique all users should be taught to employ.

Links & Resources

  * US Administration on Aging Resources --
  * The United Nations. "United Nations Principles for Older
    Persons" -- www.un.org/esa/socdev/iyop/iyoppop.htm.
  * The United Nations. "Accessibility on the Internet" --
  * Microsoft Accessibility Site -- www.microsoft.com/enable/.
  * Lighthouse International -- www.lighthouse.org.
  * Deborah Cloud. "The Medium and the Message," American
    Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, 1996
  * Microsoft Seniors & Technology site --
  * WebTV Developer Site -- http://developer.webtv.net/.
  * Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton. "Basic Design Principles
    for Creating Web Sites"
  * Samu Mielonen. "Colour Blindness and Link Colours," 1996
  * BOBBY - Web page accessibility validation --
  * World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative
    -- www.w3.org/WAI.

Related Reading

  * Carter, Jimmy. The Virtues of Aging. New York: Library of
    Contemporary Thought, 1998.
  * Dychtwald, Ken, Ph.D. and Flower, Joe. Age Wave. New York:
    Bantam Books, 1990
  * Peterson, Peter G. Gray Dawn. New York: Times Books, 1999.
  * Smith, J. Walker and Clurman, Ann. Rocking the Ages. New
    York: Harpers Collins Publishers, 1997.


  * US Census Bureau and US Administration on Aging.
  * Peter G. Preston, Gray Dawn, (New York: Times Books, 1999).
  * AG Neilson and Microsoft Research, 1999.
  * Media Metrix Reports, "Marketing to Seniors { Generational
  * Does not necessarily reflect endorsement of any Microsoft
    services or products.
  * This demographic trend is discussed in detail in the book
    Gray Dawn by Peter G. Preston.
  * Ken Dychtwald, Age Wave.
  * From the presentation, "Marketing to Seniors { Generational
    Perspectives." Data supplied by Media Metrix Reports.
  * Cloud, Deborah. "The Medium and the Message: Communicating
    With Older Adults." A speech given at the American
    Association of Homes and Services for the Aging's
    conference, 1996.
  * Cloud, Deborah. "The Medium and the Message: Communicating
    With Older Adults." A speech given at the American
    Association of Homes and Services for the Aging's
    conference, 1996.
  * See Lighthouse International's Web site for a full, in-depth
    discussion of color for low vision and examples of both good
    and bad color combinations at
  * The Microsoft Accessibility site, www.microsoft.com/enable,
    is an excellent source for more information.

If you have any feedback or suggestions please contact us via
e-mail at seniors@microsoft.com; fax (425) 936-7329; or mail:
     Seniors @ Microsoft
     Microsoft Corporation
     One Microsoft Way
     Redmond, WA 98052

The information contained in this document represents the
current view of Microsoft Corporation on the issues discussed as
of the date of publication. Because Microsoft must respond to
changing market conditions, it should not be interpreted to be a
commitment on the part of Microsoft, and Microsoft cannot
guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the
date of publication.

This document is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT

(c) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Microsoft, IntelliMouse, WebTV, and Windows are either
registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in
the United States and/or other countries.

                   Last Updated: June 1, 1999
Received on Saturday, 19 June 1999 20:24:47 UTC

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