The older adult population in the U.S. continues to increase at a rapid pace due to aging baby boomers and increased life expectancy. Older Americans, 60 years and older, will comprise about 20% of the total population by 2030, which is more than twice the number of aging adults than in 2000 (Administration on Aging, 2002). The Web offers an unprecedented opportunity for older adults to access a wealth of online resources. Increasingly, older adults are using the Web for information on self-diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of health problems (Preidt, 2003). They are taking advantage of electronic government resources to vote, file taxes, obtain social services, voice their opinions to officials, and search historical records. Older adults are also using the Web to stay socially active in terms of communicating with other users via lists and chat rooms (Czaja, Guerrier, Nair & Landauer, 1993; Kerschner & Hart, 1984).
In the U.S., the Internet has emerged as a major communications medium with the potential to disseminate information to all citizens including older adults. Yet, there is an ongoing concern that the opportunities associated with Internet access may not be readily available to all citizens. This concern has been expressed in a recent Pew Foundation study (Lenhart, Horrigan, Rainie, Allen, Boyce, Madden & O'Grady, 2003, p. 6):
“Internet non-users will have less power as consumers and fewer economic opportunities, less access to high-quality health information, fewer options for dealing with government agencies, no chance to learn about their world from the millions of organizations and learning centers that have posted their material on the Web, and less opportunity to interact with others through email and instant messaging.”
Older adults in particular may encounter Web accessibility barriers due to vision, cognition, and physical changes that are associated with the normal aging process. Reading complexity may also become a barrier when literacy skills of older adults are not taken into account in the design of Web content.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Web Accessibility: Web accessibility means that any person, regardless of disabilities, is able to use Web technology without encountering any barriers.
Digital Divide: The digital divide is a term used to describe the disparity between persons who have access to information and computing technology and those who do not. Often, it is used to describe the lack of Internet accessibility to those living in rural or remote areas or who lack computing knowledge and skills.
Older Adults: An older adult is defined as a person who is 60 years or older in the National Institute on Aging’s guidelines on making senior-friendly sites.
Health Literacy: Health literacy is the capacity of an individual to obtain, interpret, and understand basic health information and services and the competence to use such information and services in ways that are health-enhancing (refer to text box 1 AU15: No box matches the in-text citation "box 1". Please supply a box or delete the citation. ).
Web Usability: Web usability refers to the user satisfaction associated with a Web site. It typically includes the effectiveness of the site in meeting the needs of the user. It also includes the site’s performance, reliability, and overall efficiency in supporting specified user goals.
Electronic Government: Electronic government (e-government) refers to the use of information and computing technologies by government agencies to deliver services, information, and resources to citizens, businesses, and other organizations.