Create Accessible Surveys For The Elderly

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Online Survey

Photo Credit:’s Ridofranz

“If you want the elderly to take your surveys, you need to be more sensitive to their needs.”

Here we’ll tell you exactly how and why you need to remember and implement this statement, like it’s a verse from the Bible.

Focus On The Elderly:

A sizable portion of the US population now is in or around the age of 65; also known as the baby boomers. In fact, it was only in April last year, that Millennials (75.4 million) surpassed baby boomers (74.9 million) as America’s largest living generation.

In an article by Daily Mail, it is stated that by 2030, 20.1% of the US population will be over 65 years of age. While in little over a decade, one in every five people, will be aged 65 or above.

Catering to different age demographics within the population is a hard task. Different age groups have varied requirements, not everyone can be measured on the same scale or treated exactly like the other. Not only is this unfair but in the case of surveys, the results could come out inconclusive. Therefore generalized surveys for us, are a big ‘no no’. Always know your target audience! If you aren’t sure who your consumers are, then find out.

See: How To Gauge Target Demographics For Online Survey

We’re not just saying this because it’s by the book; but you actually need to be crystal clear about whom you are creating the survey for. The reason is simple, you need to tailor your survey on the requirements of your audience, which in your case are the baby boomers.

Impact of the Boomers
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Make Surveys More Accessible:

We all know that the internet, tech and everything in between the two, are the Millennials forte. Most of their creators are also born in that generation. But did you also know that because of this most of the content online is targeted only towards them. Hardly any site or content is optimized to suit the needs of the old generations, surveys included.

Like we said before, each generation has their own needs and requirements. The bodies of the elderly start to degenerate, causing them to have trouble performing routine tasks. Vision impairments, low cognitive function and shaky hands are just some of the issues old age brings along.

Work On Content Visibility:

Smashing magazine reports that visibility issues increase with age. Most of the people who have surpassed the age of 40, require reading glasses or bifocals, to help them read small fonts and see tiny objects. This is mostly caused by a natural aging process called presbyopia.

While according an AARP report, 4 million people in the US, have low vision that cannot be fully restored or treated by any medical procedure, surgery or corrective lenses. Out of these 4 million, 68% are aged over 65 years.

We promise this was the last curveball we threw your way, no more mundane stats. Moving forward, we will now explore exactly how we can design surveys for the elderly.

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Use These Specialized Guidelines:

There are six main aspects we need to focus on while creating such a survey: the font (type and size), type of emphasis (bold face or italics), color and contrast, style of buttons, length of questions and the spacing.

1. Font:

Picking the right font, which the elderly can easily figure out, it the greatest influencer of your survey, which is why you need to take extra precautions with this.

Thus, when deciding what font to use, you should experiment with different typestyles in different sizes to see which has maximum readability. Don’t go with the first thing you find, instead take your time choosing.

For mobile devices, 16 pixels is generally a good size, however, when surveying the aging population, you should go up to at least 18 to 20 pixels. This might increase the need for scrolling but it’ll save them from squinting. On normal screens, 12 to 14 points are good sizes for normal text. Yet these values are not definite, as different sizes have different effects on different font styles.

A valuable suggestion I read in an article was that you should allow users to adjust text size to suit their individual needs, especially when dealing with the elderly. Not all old people have the same eye-sight, nor do they have the same visual impairments, so do your best to accommodate them, but at the end, just hand them the reins.

visual impairments
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Also, when selecting for an elderly audience, you should use an easy-to-read, simple typeface. Avoid any decorative or elaborate typestyles and scripts, and make sure that you don’t use various fonts on a single page. In fact keep the number of fonts to a minimum in a document, so it is easier for the old people, with declining cognitive systems, to process and retain the content.

UX Matters and Change Conversions, both recommend using San Serif fonts; as they have proven to be more distinguishable and readable for older people with declining eye-sight. Some popular San Serif fonts include Arial, Helvetica and Verdana.


2. Emphasis:

When designing for seniors remember to use boldface to emphasize a word or phrase, not Italic type. A research states that Italics is 18% harder to read than upright Roman letters. Even if we take out the senior persons’ angle, then as well bold face is more eye-catching.

Italics generally indicate a change in context rather than put emphasis; they don’t stand out, in fact you might not even notice it in a lengthy paragraph, until you give the whole thing a read. You can click here to learn more about fonts and accessibility.


3. Colors:

Some color combinations might appear pleasing at times, like light on light or dark on dark combinations, but in reality they have catastrophic results. For text that has to be displayed on small screens, especially if it’s targeted towards an older demographic, sticking with saturated hues would be the smart choice.

Another important tip to remember when selecting font colors for deteriorating eyes is to maintain the level of contrast around 70%. The best combination undoubtedly is black text on a white background, but other light backgrounds also work (or vice versa). Avoid drop-out and reverse text, as well as medium-value colors for better accessibility.

With some age-based visual impairments, people have a hard time distinguishing between similar hues such as ‘green and blue’ or ‘red and orange’, etc. So be 100% sure when determining the contrast.


4. Buttons:

Older respondent aren’t that tech savvy, they don’t have decades of computer and web using experience like the younger generations. Therefore, survey actions or interactions like ‘Next’ and ‘Submit’ buttons need to be more obvious. Not only do they need to be larger and clear but the font style needs to be readable and emphasized.

Also, you’ll have to apply the contrast rule here; the color of the button should be different, yet go well with both the color of the text and the page background.

Furthermore, the buttons should be large, at least 48 pixels each (for mobile devices), with lots of padding between clickable areas, to avoid accidently selecting some other button.


5. Questions:

The content of the survey, has as much impact on the readability, as does its theme. The first point here to focus on is the length of the questions. The questions should be short and to the point, but not evasive. All unnecessary details or questions should be taken out of the survey.

Also, you should ask questions about large-scale salient events, rather than minor details. Old people develop memory issues with time, which can range from simple forgetfulness to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Try to ask questions like ‘Which was the last place you visited?’, rather than ‘What was the date of your last visit?’.

Try to keep the complexity out of you survey questions. If you need to mention multiple details, then break the text down into chunks with text boxes, sub-headings and bullet points.


6. Spacing:

When I use the word ‘spacing’ here, I am referring to four key elements of typography: Leading, Line Length, Kerning and Tracking.

The text size should be large and have extra leading (distance from baseline to baseline) to make it more readable; e.g. 14 points of leading on 12 points of text, but these measurements might vary. Another source recommended using 1.25em of leading for phones and iPad Minis, while 1.375m for normal iPads.

Sufficient tracking should be done on individual sections and questions; this white space is what will increase their readability and help distinguish one section from another.

Also, the line length should accommodate lesser words, meaning there should be more space added to the margins.


And last but not the least, much care should be taken while finalizing the kerning. The kerning should be such that each character is distinguishable for the elderly, yet there shouldn’t be so much space between each character/letter that they are thought to be a separate word.

Overall add as much space as you can without making it ugly, confusing or too long, because any mistakes here could spark survey abandonment.

Implement these tips and let us know what response your survey got!

About The Author

Kelvin Stiles is a tech enthusiast and works as a marketing consultant at SurveyCrest – FREE online survey software and publishing tools for academic and business use. He is also an avid blogger and a comic book fanatic.