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My Parents Are on the Internet: Online and Aging

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Mom’s battling it out with words, animals, and vegetables on her favorite game site. She’ll be reading the news again later this afternoon and probably paying the bills. I’ve noticed that she leans forward more often to see the screen. Dad’s balling and making it rain on his favorite computer parts site. He gets frustrated when he has to scroll to the top of the page after he’s read all the categories and wants to re-read them. Yes, my parents are on the internet (gasp!).

It’s time I have the talk with them.

My parents, both retired and very techy, are different from many other people in their age group and social circle. They already know to stand guard against scams. They know the best browser to use when they access their bank accounts or shop online (for presents for me!). Sure, I wish they’d choose better passwords, but at least they use different passwords across the sites they visit.

Actually, there’s that other talk I need to have with them: I’ll teach them how to increase the font in their browsers so they can read online without straining their eyes; encourage them to buy a different mouse because they have arthritis; show them how to increase the color contrast on all their devices; I’ll even set up custom styles so they can override particularly hard to use sites.

Perhaps you want to talk with my parents—about their government benefits, how they can file their taxes, help them renew their passports, or something else—but have you made it easy to engage them, to really have a conversation with them, or help them complete those tasks when they’re using your sites and apps?

According to a report from the Census Bureau (PDF), the number of people over age 65 is expected to increase to 20 percent by 2030, compared to 13 percent in 2010. You’ll be serving an ever-growing, aging population.

The W3C-WAI says that older people may have reduced dexterity, difficulty concentrating and hearing sounds, reduced short-term memory, and other conditions that will make it challenging for them to do many online tasks that we take for granted.

When you’re testing the user experience of your digital media, talking with older users will help you learn how to meet the needs of my parents, your parents, and our future selves. Find out more from W3C-WAI’s Older Users Online article.

Besides, I need some new trinkets, and my parents are ready to shop!

Have you worked with or considered older users in your digital media projects? Share your thoughts below!

Angela Hooker is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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6 Comments

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Russell Irving

Angela, I commend you for bringing up this truly important, and all too often neglected topic. – In ‘another life’ I help evaluate websites for businesses. A common critique is that they are not well-suited for either seniors or those with vision issues. Text might be of a very thin and light color, rendering them extremely difficult t read. Or the size of the text requires the Hubble Telescope to zoom in on. – So, kudos!

Profile Photo Angela Hooker

Thanks very much, Russell! Haha! I must own the Hubble Telescope with the amount of zooming I do. Hard-to-read text is probably my biggest pet peeve since it affects many people and it’s so easy to avoid. I hope designers will remember how much it impacts general usability.

Profile Photo Jane

This is so correct. I know there are some sites that I just don’t visit due to the difficulty in reading with the colors/fonts they use. I have helped some of my older relatives and they love being on line and able to keep in touch with friends and relatives. Hopefully programmers will remember that many seniors are out there using their products.

Nena Roberts

Ms. Hooker, thank you for thinking of us “older” (50+) generation. We often get left behind in the workplace, especially when it comes to technology. Most of us desire to learn and keep up with technology, but oftentimes younger people will just do it themselves instead of taking the time and effort to not only teach, but include us. Thank you for encouraging your generation to include and educate us.

gjintexas

Great article, but I found it odd that you should talk about increasing font and contrast and yet you posted this article in a light gray color that is extremely difficult to read for people of any age.