Here’s a quick summary of some of the age-related vision changes arriving from upper middle age (50+) onward:

•       loss of focusing ability, especially close up, due to hardening of the lens inside the eye (presbyopia)

•       pupils become less responsive to changes in ambient lighting (hence the need for brighter lighting for comfortable reading)

•       loss of peripheral vision, meaning over the years the peripheral visual field shrinks up to 20-30 degrees by the 70’s and 80’s

•       decreased colour vision, meaning colours are less bright, the contrast between colours is less distinct, and people have trouble distinguishing between different colours, such as between dark blue and brown or blue from green or purple

•       increased sensitivity to glare – seeing clearly in reflected light or bright sunlight is more difficult

•       changes in the time it takes to adjust to differences in light levels, say, between bright and dark areas – it can take two to three times longer than at an earlier age

•       depth perception becomes more difficult – judging the height of a kerb or a step is harder, and shadowy areas may be misinterpreted

Some of these natural changes can be corrected for, for example, by adding reading glasses for close up focus, increasing ambient light brightness or using sunglasses for times in glare conditions. Others, though, can be responded to by design solutions in websites and other forms of communications.

Website accessibility & design

Tips for the design work to aid website accessibility:

•       text size: consider a larger font size (minimum of 12 point) and allow for the reader to enlarge the text; if using lots of text, enable a text-only version as well

•       get the contrast right: make the contrast distinct rather than subtle, use bold text to strengthen readability, and allow text highlighting

•       choose colours for action items carefully: between colour blindness and loss of colour sensitivity, older readers need further help with clearly distinguishing buttons for action – use clearly visible text and clear icon designs, choosing safe colours for these users

•       if you also have a mobile site, allow desktop users a choice to access that too, as mobile sites are usually more visually distinctive

•       allow keyboard shortcuts for navigation help (arrow keys and keystrokes to move around a site rather than only following a mouse, which may be indistinct to visually challenged readers)

•       use media and audio tools as well on your website, giving another means to access your information

•       test your designs with your target audience and use checking tools that are available (colour and contrast tools can identify problem areas within your website)

Lots of us don’t consider ourselves visually impaired, but these age-related vision changes will affect us, even subtly. To reach this large and growing audience effectively, websites just need some simple principles applied for effective design for everyone. If you’d like any help with analysing your website’s effectiveness in these areas, give us a call or an email. Engaging with issues of ageing, disabilities and communications is what Agility does.