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The relevance of digital accessibility for seniors
Published on 31 October 2023

Despite the recognized acceptance barrier when considering technology usage among those who have reached 65 and above, European statistics are starting to present encouraging figures. According to Eurostat, in 2017, almost half (48%) of the EU population aged 65-74 years did not use the internet during the three months preceding the Community survey on ICT usage [1]. In contrast, the 2020 Eurostat reported improved internet usage with only two fifths (39%) of the EU population aged 65-74 years not using the internet during the three months preceding the survey [2]. The difference of 9% in the span of 3 years needs to be acknowledged, as does the beginning of the global Covid-19 pandemic which is believed to have contributed to the difference. The lack of social interaction among seniors managed to determine this part of the population to use the internet and, thus, digital devices, to a greater extent than before. The digital divide between this part of the population and the youth is decreasing [1] which represents a great improvement, as a higher level of digital acceptance leads to seniors recognizing the positive impact technology could have on their lives.

There are several advantages of using technology, one of them being convenience. It is easier to open the smartphone or laptop and do online banking or interact with relatives or friends, instead of visiting in person. For some seniors, the simple task of going to the market to buy groceries can prove very difficult. Another advantage is the decrease in the feelings of loneliness and depression levels of seniors [3]. By socialising online or playing games, seniors can spend time alone more purposefully and keep themselves from getting bored. Additionally, by playing games, they can also stimulate certain cognitive functions, like memory and problem solving.

For seniors with certain disabilities or physical/mental illnesses, assistive technologies can make a big difference in terms of quality of life. Assistive technologies comprise a wide range of wearables and home-based sensors and devices for health and wellbeing monitoring and support which aim to enable people with specific needs – in this case, the elderly – to live longer and independent in their home environment [4]. This means that such technologies can make the difference between living an independent life, and living an assisted life, inside a care facility. Thus, we have to ponder on why the elderly do not fully benefit from what AAL has to offer.

According to Charness and Boot, there are four types of barriers which prevent seniors from using new technologies: attitudinal barriers, cognitive barriers, age-related changes affecting technology usage and privacy concerns [5]. The present article considers that accessibility is the most relevant element, which concerns the necessity of adapting technology to the special needs of seniors. The elderly section of the population possesses a variety of cognitive, perceptual, and motoric limitations associated with the aging process, which impede its successful employment of digital resources [6]. Among these, we recognize any level of vision impairment and changes, such as colour perception and susceptibility to glare; any level of auditory impairment and changes, such as difficulty perceiving high-pitched sounds and greater interference from background noise; changes in motor control, including increased difficulty with fine motor control and coordination, and illnesses; cognitive affections, such as general slowing of cognitive processes, decreased memory capacity, decreased attentional control, and difficulty in goal maintenance. Because technology was not designed to take into consideration these factors and disabilities, the access of seniors is hampered.

Of late years, the issue of accessibility has been acknowledged, and solution developers are paying more attention to the accessibility of their devices. For example, Android phones have had various accessibility settings since the Android OS 6 Marshmallow, and these settings are growing in number with every new Android OS version. Nowadays, a phone using Android OS 12 has features such as magnifying the screen, automatically captioning media and even controlling the screen using facial gestures (multimodal human-device interaction). There are accessibility settings available for every type of disability.

One of the most useful features for seniors – and people with visual disabilities – is the ability to interact, adjust, and somewhat control their environment through vocal and audio input. Here we mention the classic text dictation and screen reader software, but also the more modern use of voice-controlled intelligent personal assistants, such as Alexa, Siri, Bixby or Google Assistant. Whereas the classical features can help only people with visual disabilities, the smart digital assistants can also support persons with limited mobility [7]. In the same manner, speech interaction can aid (elderly) persons who suffered a stroke and need speech practice and therapy. Other necessary accessibility measures include big displays and buttons, legible and large writing fonts, and a noticeable contrast between colours. These are mostly for people with poor eyesight.

Even if vision and hearing are usually taken into account when designing new devices, mobility issues are still neglected. For people whose hands are shaking, using a touch screen device can prove utterly impossible. Cluttered screens can create an even more stressful situation, as the person could easily click on a different button from the one that they want to access, ending up in a place from where it is very difficult for them to exit [8]. This can be a significant issue for seniors, because a lot of age-related illnesses such as Essential Tremor, Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis can determine shaking hands [9].

Thus, the technological development is still far from the accessibility standards that could cover the various needs afferent to advanced age. It is for this reason for which we, the CAREPATH consortium, are constantly trying to find ways to accommodate the possible impairments and illnesses of the seniors, in order for them to benefit from the use of the CAREPATH solution. Our goal is to empower the elderly users of these solution to live autonomous, healthy and happy lives, while decreasing the burden of their informal caregivers. We strongly believe that once accessibility is covered and the elderly are supported in their digital journey, they will develop confidence in their own ability, perseverance and resilience – the three essential characteristics for ensuring a stable connection to technology. From there on, technology will take the lead and do what it was designed to: make everyone’s lives easier.

  1. Eurostat, 2019. Ageing Europe — looking at the lives of older people in the EU. (Online) Available at: . Accessed at 12th of March 2022.
  2. Eurostat, 2021. Individuals – internet use (Database ISOC_CI_IFP_IU). [online] Available at: . Accessed at 12th of March 2022.
  3. Merhi, M. I. and Aldirawi, H., 2019. Factors Impacting Seniors’ Usage of Technology. Proceedings of the Fourteenth Midwest Association for Information Systems Conference, Midwest Association for Information Systems, pp. 1–6. [online] Available at: Accessed at 14th of March 2022.
  4. Queirós, A., Silva, A., Alvarelhão, J., Rocha, N. and Teixeira, A., 2013. Usability, accessibility and ambient-assisted living: a systematic literature review. Universal Access in the Information Society, 14(1), pp.57-66. DOI: 10.1007/s10209-013-0328-x.
  5. Charness, N., Boot, W. R., 2009. Aging and Information Technology Use: Potential and Barriers. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 18(5), pp.253-258. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01647.x.
  6. Petrovčič, A., Taipale, S., Rogelj, A. and Dolničar, V., 2017. Design of Mobile Phones for Older Adults: An Empirical Analysis of Design Guidelines and Checklists for Feature Phones and Smartphones. International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 34(3), pp.251-264. DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2017.1345142.
  7. Pradhan, A., Mehta, K. and Findlater, L., 2018. "Accessibility Came by Accident": Use of Voice-Controlled Intelligent Personal Assistants by People with Disabilities. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. DOI: 10.1145/3173574.3174033.
  8. Iancu, I. and Iancu, B., 2017. Elderly in the Digital Era. Theoretical Perspectives on Assistive Technologies. Technologies, 5(3), p.60. DOI: 10.3390/technologies5030060.
  9. WebMD, 2022. Reasons Your Hands Are Shaking. [online] Available at: . Accessed at 15th of March 2022.
  10. Image source: (Creative Commons Licence).