October 1 is the International Day of Older Persons, and in 2021 the United Nations has declared the theme Digital Equity for All Ages.

Worldwide, the number of people aged 60 years and over already outnumbers children younger than 5 years old. Over the next three decades, the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050, with 80% of them living in low or middle-income countries.

In Australia, the number of people aged 65 years and over is projected to nearly double over the next 2 decades. The population projections from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) forecast an increase from 3.8 million people in 2017 to between 6.4 million and 6.7 million people in 2042.

The United Nations reports that as efforts to connect more people are currently under way, new risks have arisen. For example, cybercrimes and misinformation threaten the human rights, privacy, and security of older people. The rapid speed of adoption of digital technology is outpacing policy and governance at the national, regional, and global levels. Older people (as non-digital natives) often don’t understand the new ways privacy can be breached and scams perpetrated in the digital world.

The other aspect of ageing is that many older people acquire impairments and disabilities. The ABS reports that the prevalence of disability increases with age – one in two (49.6%) people aged 65 years and over had a disability in 2018, compared to one in nine (11.6%) people aged 0-64 years.

With ageing, we commonly find a deterioration in many abilities including:

  • Vision, including colour perception and contrast acuity
  • Movement, dexterity, and fine motor control
  • Hearing, including separating foreground and background sounds
  • Memory, concentration, and distraction

Many of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) success criteria address specific accessibility issues for older people. The W3C’s Developing Websites for Older People: How Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Applies discusses the WCAG 2.0 criteria that should be applied. WCAG 2.1 added additional criteria that could include older people as a focus, such as:

Ensuring we meet WCAG is a good starting point for helping address digital equity for all ages, meaning that our older relatives, and our future selves, can use the web and mobile apps more easily. We also need to be sure we write in plain, age-agnostic language, avoid idioms and colloquialisms that can be age-specific, and write in the active voice. We should also use design patterns that are commonly experienced and make sure the steps to complete any task are clear and obvious.

Additional reading