An estimated 800,000 people in the UK have dementia (as well as about 50 million people worldwide https://www.alz.co.uk/research/statistics). Numbers are growing.
Most people with the condition are over 65, and in the digital age this group is now increasingly likely to be online. People with dementia might want to keep up with current affairs, fill in government forms, stay in contact with friends and family, do their shopping, banking and more. It’s therefore essential that websites are accessible for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
As well as experiencing memory, organisation and orientation issues, users in this age bracket or with such conditions are also more likely to experience issues with vision and perception, slower processing and problems with language.
Websites need to be very clear and simple and should be tested with a wide-variety of users to ensure they make sense and are easy to use.
The likes of the BBC, NHS and others are catering for an ageing audience by using more thoughtful web design. But most websites don’t and are therefore alienating customers or the public in general. Older people might particularly want to use websites to reduce isolation and maintain a sense of independence.
Universal design principles mean that by thinking about customers with specific needs your website will work better for everyone; it’s better for every business. Making reasonable adjustments so that your site is inclusive also means you’re complying with the Equality Act 2010.
Here are some best practice tips on digital design for dementia from AbilityNet’s accessibility team. In general, the main points are to make navigation super easy, ie enabling people to know where they are within the site/ page at all times and to know what actions they’ve already carried out.
Be very clear about what your website is and what it’s for. Avoid being abstract.
Make sure links and buttons clearly indicate their purpose. Ie, they should make sense in their own right, not just in conjunction with surrounding text. For example, rather than a link or button saying ‘click here for more information’, it should say something like ‘click here to speak to the bank’. The links should be underlined to distinguish them from other text.
If someone misses out a section on a form and an error message alerts them of that, the alert should explain exactly what they need to fix. Ie, say ‘ please enter your first name’, not ‘please select a value’ or ‘enter your name’.
Important parts of a page/ site ie, the Home button, the search box and a site map should be very easy and clear to locate consistently across a website.
Splitting forms and information across several pages can lead to disorientation. Put the whole form or text on one page so a user can easily scroll up and down to see what they’ve already filled in / read.
‘Carousels’ (automatically revolving images/ links) can pose serious challenges when trying to make your website conform to accessibility standards. In user testing they perform poorly as way of communicating information to users. When considering conditions such as dementia, they can be seriously distracting for users. If you do still use them, make sure that the carousel can be paused or stopped
Use ‘breadcrumb’ links (the ones with the > arrows) in an obviously visible place on the page, so it’s clear for someone to be reminded of the route they’ve taken to get to a page, and to see which section they’re currently in. Ie current account> outgoings>today.
Use a consistent font to minimise distractions and confusion, along with plain backgrounds and well-contrasted colours. Relevant photos on the page can be very useful for comprehension, allowing a user to understand content without disorientation.
Use short sentences and avoid abbreviations and jargon. Make your language as plain as possible. The average reading age in the UK in nine years old.
You can find the AbililtyNet dementia and digital design webinar here
There’s a more detailed article on dementia and digital design here, including comments from people with the condition.