Struggles Seniors Face When Surfing the Web

…and How to Tackle Them With Good Design

Web accessibility is a term that gets bandied about a lot, and with good reason. When someone asks, “Is this site accessible?”, they’re asking if the site can be easily read by software programs designed to read the internet for people with disabilities that prevent them from browsing the web with the keyboard, mouse, and vision skills that are typically used to look at pictures, click on links, etc.

When we talk about web accessibility for seniors, we’re talking about how to minimize the obstacles that the physical and mental realities of aging place on using the web. Most of the points here, you’ll find, aren’t just good ideas when designing for seniors. Good design is good design, and good design makes content available to the widest possible audience.

The National Institute on Aging has compiled an excellent list of the research on how seniors surf the web and made a very compelling list of design principles to following when you’re targeting a senior audience. We’ve pulled out the points we consider to be the most essential in good design for you. Check out the NIA article for more tips and to follow-up on the research behind them.


As we age, many of us experience increased problems with eyesight. For example, about 8% of males have a red/green vision deficiency and the ability to distinguish individual colors can diminish as we age. Ensuring that colors have high contrast allows users to see links, read the text, and understand what their next step might be in a online application process.

Color rainbow seen with typical vision, and with red/green vision deficiencies

The web is a very visual place and puts a great deal of demand on our eyes. Accessible design can minimize this demand and make surfing a site less taxing in a number of simple ways.


  • Use a sans serif, non-condensed font such as Helvetica or Arial in medium and bold weights.
  • Left justify your text.
  • Used mixed case and NEVER WRITE ANYTHING IN ALL CAPS.
  • Use double-spaced, 12- or 14-point type size.
  • Provide a clear method at the top of every page allowing viewers to adjust the type size.


  • Use high-contrast colors, such as black text on a white background.
  • Avoid pairing colors that are close to one another on the spectrum, especially green, blue and yellow.
  • Avoid patterned backgrounds.
  • Use color to distinguish headlines.
  • Avoid using dark blue and purple, which can be mistaken for links.


Our ability to quickly process information and to hold on to large amounts of complex information diminishes as we age, which has critical implications for the way designers present a user interface.


  • Create a site map and link to it as the top of every page.
  • Keep the site organization simple.
  • Limit points per heading to five, pointing the most important info at the top.
  • Use color to mark out different sections.


  • Include a search box in the same place at the top of each page.
  • Use a search engine that requires no special knowledge of search technology.
  • Use a forgiving search engine that offers suggestions for mis-spellings.


  • Use the active voice, be positive, be specific, be clear, be concise.
  • Avoid jargon and define technical terms when you must use them.
  • Number steps.
  • Address the reader as “you.”

Motor Skills

Age often comes with a host of problems like arthritis that make it more difficult for us to manage fine motor skills with confidence. Using a mouse and keyboard can potentially be pretty strenuous for anyone–good website design allows viewers to access the content with minimal strain on the fingers and wrist.

Clickable Targets

  • Leave plenty of space around links and buttons.
  • Use large buttons.
  • Provide feedback in both visual and auditory modes that lets viewers know that their click was successful.
  • Treat double-clicks and single-clicks the same and allow both to access the info.
  • Make bullets, headlines, and graphics link to the relevant information.
  • Following standard conventions, such as underlining linked text.


  • Use responsive design to eliminate horizontal scrolling.
  • Minimize vertical scrolling.
  • Do not use automatic scrolling.
  • Avoid features that imply a bottom to the page when there’s more content below.
  • Minimize use of hover-text, mouseovers, and animation.


The best way to determine whether your design has serious obstacles for seniors is, of course, to test it. Make a list of the design issues that are most critical for your client and have viewers from your target demographic use and offer feedback on your design.

Further Reading

The topic of web accessibility for seniors has been researched and well-documented. We found these articles to be particularly useful in understanding the “why” of the design considerations that should be given careful attention when designing for a senior audience.

Making Your Website Senior Friendly
Designing a Usable Website for an Aging Population
Designing for Different Age Groups
Web Usability for Senior Citizens
Web Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review