Is designing for seniors the same as designing for accessibility?

Liz Boehm [Posted by Liz Boehm]

Being the CXP analyst who focuses on the needs of seniors, I get a lot of questions about accessibility.  And I'll admit I can see the connection.  Among the other issues that most people face as they get older are decreasing eyesight and hearing.  But most seniors don't consider themselves disabled.  They find ways to work around their failing eyesight and less acute hearing (we've all seen -- or been -- the guy holding the menu at arm's length in the dim restaurant lighting).  But seniors won't bother to find a work-around if the technology in question doesn't tempt them with a strong enough value proposition to squint through the small font or risk a misclick.  And I don't mean a value proposition that a company wants to sell; I mean one that the senior wants to buy.  Because the senior will have to pay for it -- if not with money, then with the time it takes to learn how to use your solution.

So here's where the process of designing for seniors and designing for individuals with severe disabilities parts company.  Many disabled users are willing to master enabling technologies (such as screen readers) in order to access the same tools and resources that are compelling to others in their age and interest cohorts.  They can then apply this mastery across multiple technologies.  Seniors will only bother to master your site or technology if it provides some other benefit to them, in a way that they can access.  See the difference?

This is why the Wii Fit is finding such acceptance in senior living facilities -- because seniors like to get together for a little camaraderie and friendly competition.  And if you're a little unsteady on your feet, and your arthritis makes it hard to grip or even fit your fingers into little holes, then a Wii controller is a lot more accessible than a bowling ball.  The technology is beside the point.  Seniors haven't decided to adopt the Wii.  They've decided to go bowling with their friends.

If you're interested in learning more about designing experiences for seniors, please join me, Mike Paciello, and Kath Straub at Forrester's Customer Experience Forum 2009.  We'll be discussing design strategies and taking questions during the Designing Great Web Experiences track from 4-4:45 on Tuesday June 22.

Comments

I am a senior

Who blogs a lot about health care at USHealthCrisis.com and knows a lot about it. I did health care marketing for years and deployed EHRs. I think most generalizations about seniors are false and misleading to the health care system. I would live to talk to you about it. Are you in the bay ares? I am @Hardaway onTwitter.