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Jeff Johnson <[log in to unmask]>
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Jeff Johnson <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 2 Dec 2012 11:22:22 -0800
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Thanks to all who responded to my request for information about Seniors on the web.  Very helpful.

Below is a summary of the responses.

Jeff Johnson, Ph.D.
Wiser Usability, Inc. (

>Q1. Websites that target older adults

- SAGA (travel & insurance):
- The Oldie (magazine):
- Senior Citizens' Resources:


MB: Not sure if you consider this obvious or not but there are many web sites that offer supplemental health insurance for the Medicare "donut hole".  I can get you more info if desired I did a study of about 5 of these sites about one year ago.

JG: One category of sites for seniors which may not be readily accessible (no pun) to you: sites run by companies or other organization for their own retirees. I'm about to retire (I'm 65) and have just been given access to my own employer's.  There's not much on our site, so there's no complex navigation, search, selection or their associated issues. The only senior-specific item other than the content is a reasonably prominent increase/decrease font size control*. I would imagine, though, that large organizations might have larger and more complex sites that could prove interesting to you.

CG: I am not aware of any sites that target to seniors except for AARP. I observed some behaviors from my parents and mother-in-law:
1. They only go to the sites they feel comfortable with usually well- known news sites.
2. They don't usually do search.
3. They ask help to get the site if they need to find something.
4. They don't like the instant message sites with news pop-up.  My father says "Why they are always open in front of my face?" "Why do they jump?".
5. They don't trust bank sites so they don't go there.

>Q2. "Web usability" and/versus "Web accessibility"

- Chisnell/Redish links:

>Q3. Senior-user confusion about "scope" of settings or displayed info.

Mark Notess:

Although focused on online learning, this article from eLearn Magazine might be helpful:
- Online Learning for Seniors: Barriers and Opportunities:

Caroline Jarrett:

I see considerable overlap in the behaviours of older users and of people with low literacy. Often, the challenges we equate with 'older' are nothing of the sort, but happen because of low literacy, either life-long (due to missing out on schooling when young, or from undiagnosed conditions such as dyslexia or ADHD) or acquired (due to acquired cognitive deficits). Kathryn Summers may know more about this. She occasionally joins me in the Design to Read project which aims to bring together researchers who are interested in any group that has problems with reading, designers who want to design for people who have problems with reading, and individuals who themselves have reading issues of any type.  Our most recent Design to Read project activity was to write a chapter in 'Rhetorical Accessability' (sic) which we hope will come out Real Soon Now. 

Susan Farrell:

We found some similar things in studies with seniors. Interestingly the narrowing of focus seems to apply also to people having trouble reading web pages because of low literacy or ESL difficulties in English. People with low vision also have trouble using navigation that is out of the main focus area, unsurprisingly.

As you mentioned, the context error I see with people of all ages who are less familiar with website conventions or who are unfamiliar with the site they are using. I see it also in re-searching after selecting a scope when the scope has not been retained by the system.

But back to seniors: we have a bunch of guidelines based on our findings gathered in this report:

One of the recommendations I recall is to make a clear path through the information space such that when people get to the bottom of a page they are reading, the content area has navigation to the next logical thing. The NN/g report also shows sites that the researchers selected as natural for seniors to want to use. I would add prescription by mail services, retirement homes and senior centers (including the metasites for locating those and rating them), Alzheimer's informational sites, Meals on Wheels, grocery delivery, transportation services, Medicare and Social Security sites, Medicaid information, insurance sites, and hearing aid providers and manufacturers.

My one usability test with seniors so far (not part of that big study) also found people having trouble with random access to the information space. They often asked where to go next, have they seen it all yet, and they had trouble retracing their steps to find things seen once.

I believe they would have fared better with a Table-of-contents-like navigation area that showed all the information the site offered with strong directionality (procedural flow), strong you-are-here and visited link indicators (where the TOC names matched the main content area headings!), plus bottom-of-page links to get to the next thing.

They also needed task-based paths through the space. Like low-literacy and ESL users, they tended to start at one end and plow through the information methodically. Summarizing the important stuff and rewriting for succinctness probably would have saved most of the senior, ESL, and low-vision users I observed tons of time. Task-based paths would have been better for them than the random-access information space for the same reason.

Many seniors in my aforementioned study wanted to call so they would not have to wade through the material themselves.

Two unexpected things really hurt usability in that study: activating radio buttons was a lot harder than it should have been, because the targets were too small (and in this case the CMS's built-in radio buttons were selectable on the outer edge without being triggered, believe it or not), and the contact form that scrolled was a showstopper for our least-computer-savvy user, because he never saw the button. It was a very highly designed form that wasted space and de-emphasized the text-entry fields, which he at first had trouble understanding how to interact with. Excellent place for that toll-free phone number.

From my link collection, some research:

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