Survey Accessibility: Considerations For Surveying An Older Demographic

Philip Cleave
May 16, 2023
Older lady working through survey on her tablet

From local authorities and research institutions to healthcare providers and social service agencies. Whether it’s trying to discover more about the impacts of aging or improve the provision of health and care services, there’s lots of organizations who require ongoing feedback from older age groups to better prioritize and improve the delivery of services to them. And the best way for them to do that is through an online survey.

Surveys are a common tool to help gather epidemiological, behavioral and social data on different demographics. However, without careful consideration they can be prone to some specific weaknesses depending on the processes chosen to select samples, gather data and interpret results.

Such weaknesses can become particularly evident when surveying older populations. Yet, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when you consider how many older people develop physical or health conditions that can make reading of any material including surveys more difficult or challenging.

Therefore, survey creators need to help mitigate these concerns by giving special attention to the design and handling of their survey, whenever they’re aware that older adults will make up a significant proportion of their respondents. Considering that nearly 20% of the UK population is now aged 65 or over, and around 2 million are living with sight loss, that’s quite a lot of potential respondents.

Designing surveys for an older population

Considering the challenges faced by older age groups and the fact that this demographic is only going to expand further, we need to create surveys that older adults can interact with easily and without frustration.

Have the following tips in mind, even if your target audience doesn’t necessarily include older people; as they can make your survey more accessible for all types of respondents.

  • Look to employ high contrast colors throughout your survey
  • Try to use large fonts for question text, answer options, instructional text and buttons
  • Make button sizes larger than normal, with plenty of padding between clickable areas

Using high contrast colors in survey design

When it comes to your survey design, a good place to start is the colors you use for your survey.

While light colors may produce visually pleasing combinations, on small screens or for respondents with deteriorating eyesight they can be a serious impairment.

Subsequently, you’d be better off sticking with a more intense, saturated color and making sure that your text and your background are very distinct.

If in doubt, black text on a white background is a good way to go.

Employ large font sizes

In terms of your font sizes, the smallest font size you should use for any text that’s likely to be read on a mobile device is 16 pixels.

If you know you’ll be surveying older adults, you might want to increase that to a minimum of 18 to 20 pixels, so that respondents don’t have to squint or zoom in.

You also want to ensure there is enough space between the lines of text to allow respondents to read it easily. Consider 1.25em for phones and small tablets, and 1.375em for large tablets.

You might also like consider the font-weight that you use.

For example, while the text on our website meets WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines, due to a previously light-weight font we were using, the text looked a bit faint and appeared to be low contrast. To counteract this, we adjusted the relevant CSS rules, changing the body font-weight of the default text on our pages from 300 to 400.

Make survey action buttons more obvious

When you’re dealing with older respondents you need to consider that they don’t have as many years experience of computer interactions that younger generations are accustomed to. This means that you’ll need to ensure any in-survey interactions, such as a ‘Next Page’ or ‘Submit’ buttons are very clearly marked.

The simplest way to do this is to follow the high contrast rule again. In this case you need to make sure your button color is significantly different from both your text overlay and background.

In order to avoid frustration for mobile device users, your button should be at least 48 pixels wide. And if you have multiple clickable areas near one another, they should be at least 48 pixels away from each other to avoid accidental clicks.

Use a WCAG compliant accessible survey theme

From good color contrast and accessible colors to extensive browser zoom options, compatibility with a wide range of screen readers, compliance with WCAG guidelines and more. When it comes to accessibility and taking all the necessary steps to ensure your survey is as accessible as possible for everyone who wants to complete it, there’s a lot to think about. That’s when the availability of an already prepared and compliant survey theme can save a lot of time and stress than trying to do this yourself.

Fortunately, it’s simple for our own customers to create an accessible survey using our WCAG compliant accessible survey theme, which can also be easily used with a custom survey or one of our survey templates. Our accessible survey theme is now also fully compatible with high contrast mode – more information about high contrast mode can be found in our ‘Examining the Importance of High Contrast Accessibility in Accommodating Low Vision Users’ blog.

Further considerations when surveying an older demographic

Like any other survey you send out, if you're to get the most valuable feedback, you need to get as high a response rate as you can. And while your survey’s design is probably the most important aspect of making your survey more accessible to an older audience, it’s important not to forget some other aspects that could impact your survey’s accessibility too.

Here’s some further points you need to be thinking about if you’re to optimize your survey’s accessibility and maximize the response to your survey from older age groups.

Question format

Your survey questions need to be as simple and straightforward as you can make them, with clear instructions for answering them.

Avoid complex questions and technical language that may confuse older respondents.

Consider the format of your questions too, as some question types, particularly those that are very visual such as rating scale questions using emojis can be much simpler for older groups to get to grips with.

Mode of distribution

From a web embed, email and SMS to social media, QR code or an offline channel. There’s lots of possible survey distribution methods these days and the preference among older people can vary widely.

However, when considering your mode of distribution, think about factors such as the accessibility and technological proficiency of the particular group of older people you’re trying to reach out to.

Privacy and confidentiality

While many people are concerned about privacy and confidentiality issues, such worry can be much higher among older age groups, especially those that are suspicious and tentative about the using newer technologies.

So, as a survey creator it’s important to reassure them that you’re doing everything you can to protect their personal information. Besides the survey software and provider you’re working with, you can also take further steps to ensure this by ensuring that your respondents’ survey responses remain anonymous.

Clear instructions and ongoing support

Finally, providing clear and simple instructions about how to complete your survey and providing support if respondents get stuck, will help maximize your survey’s accessibility and response rate.

Your survey’s instructions should include details about how to skip questions, if necessary, while it’s helpful to be able to offer support to anyone who may get stuck on a question or needs help completing your survey.

In addition, if you’re able to follow up with non-responders and issue reminders to them, this can also help increase your survey response rates.

Final thoughts

If you weren’t already up to speed with the challenges of surveying an older age group, we hope this blog will have helped you.

Wherever you are on your survey journey, it’s important to remember that as the world’s population continues to age, so will the likelihood of you having to survey older age groups.

While working with an older demographic comes with its own unique challenges, older people can provide a wealth of insight that can be used to better inform the development of policies and services that address the needs of this demographic moving forward. So, anything you can do to improve the accessibility of your surveys, so as many older people as possible can respond to them, the better. There’s never been a more crucial time to get started with this.

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