Thursday, February 7, 2019

Accessibility features for older users

Today, nearly one fifth of people living in the EU is 65 years or older (1), by 2030 this age group is expected to make up a quarter of the population (2), and the number of people aged 80+ is expected to more than double until 2080.

Parallel to this demographic trend, information and communication technology (ICT) is increasingly replacing and supplementing many services in our societies and often constitute the only way to access certain information and services.

For all these reasons, it is important that older users feel comfortable with using ICT and in particular mobile devices and tablets which have, for many, become the main access to the internet and online services.

Indeed, mobile phones and tablets, but also wearables, come with a number of in-built features that can make their use a lot easier.

These features offer help with vision for example:

  • users can chose higher contrast, which allows to increase the contrast between writing and background for example,
  • they can increase the font size to a degree easily readable for them,
  • they can use screen magnifiers to see details and non-text elements larger;

To support hearing, devices have features such as:

  • subtitles or closed captions for video and audio content, 
  • the ability to create hearing profiles for the left and right ear individually,
  • some mobile phones can synch directly with certain hearing-aids,
  • and in some cases speech to text apps can transcribe the spoken word into text; 

Features that help with memory, attention and decision-making are also very helpful too. These include:

  • phone and address books that associated names with photos of the person, 
  • simplified user interfaces that reduce the number of options on the screen, 
  • assistance instructions that give helpful tips on how to proceed,
  • the no-screen time-out function which means that the device will wait as long as necessary for the user to enter PIN or password or answer a yes/no question without turning off;

These devices can be wonderful tools for older users to better hear and see, get access to additional information and services and stay connected with family and friends.

Organizations such as Oasis Connections in the US are developing how-to guides and booklets that try to explain features particularly useful to older users in a concise way. The latest guides on accessibility features in iOS9, iOS10 and Android 7 (Nougat) are available from the Oasis Connections website in English and Spanish: