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Marta Peral Ribeiro

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultan –

The experience of the elderly or disabled user

Working, talking to friends and family, buying products, reading, and listening to news, watching videos, listening to podcasts, paying bills, signing petitions, taking courses, applying for a new job, among others, are actions that are part of most of our daily lives. But it is not the reality of many others, who do not know how to use digital equipment or are unable to do so due to some physical disability.

Marta Peral Ribeiro
– Communication Consultan –

The experience of the elderly or disabled user

Working, talking to friends and family, buying products, reading, and listening to news, watching videos, listening to podcasts, paying bills, signing petitions, taking courses, applying for a new job, among others, are actions that are part of most of our daily lives. But it is not the reality of many others, who do not know how to use digital equipment or are unable to do so due to some physical disability.

According to Eurostat statistics, Portugal is among the countries in Europe with the lowest rates of access to digital technologies, namely the internet.

Gráfico internet no agregado familiar

Given that 20% of the Portuguese population is digitally excluded, it means that more than 2 million individuals are unable to carry out basic everyday activities in the digital sphere autonomously. For example, buying products, using services, subscribing to newsletters, reading news, communicating on social networks, etc.

Two of the reasons that lead to digital exclusion is the lack of technological skills and the existence of certain physical conditions that make it difficult for users to navigate the internet – or even when they are offline.

What is digital accessibility?

According to the World Wide Web Consortium, when accessibility is assured, everyone is apt to “understand, comprehend, navigate and interact with the web, and can contribute to the web”.

Therefore, web accessibility has to do with the possibility for any user to access any digital content or functionality.

Including people with certain physical conditions, such as visual, hearing or motor impairment. Or the elderly whose abilities gradually    diminish.

That is, it is not a question of not having digital equipment, but rather their ability to use them.

Accessibility as an inclusion factor

If access to information is a universal right, why should some be deprived of it?

Digital inclusion is a condition for participation in society, including in politics and the economy. This issue has become even more urgent because of the pandemic and all its implications, especially since last year

But the fact is that few digital platforms fully meet accessibility requirements – including the DGS (Health Department) website.

Today’s elderly are active

In an extremely technological context, older people need to maintain the ability to communicate digitally.

The Portuguese population may be aged (and the projections of the National Institute of Statistics predict that in 2080 the aging rate in Portugal will almost double) but let us keep in mind that the elderly today are active and their presence in the labor market is a reality.

This means that older people need digital skills to be able to communicate with the family they cannot be with, as well as to search for work on the internet, create a CV in Word, and email it. Among so many other facilities that they can and want to have.

Hearing impairment and literacy

One of the greatest difficulties that people with hearing impairment face is literacy – particularly young children, whose language acquisition depends on sign interpretation.

Without sign language, the child can hardly associate the written word with its conceptual representation.

The blind also use smartphones and computers

Steve Saylor is an American You tuber lover of video games, despite his serious visual impairment. Virtually blind, Steve shares the videos he’s playing and also answers the plausible question of other users: “How can a blind man be a gamer?”.

Here’s how a visually impaired person sees the game:

Jogo de videogame

But Steve, like other people with reduced vision, see it like this:

como um cego vê um jogo de videogame

The role of UX designers and the interaction between users and brands

The evolution of Artificial Intelligence has been fundamental in the creation of new technological features. However, the role of UX designers is central and is at the bottom of the pyramid of accessibility.

The work of UX developers is essential because a well-built website, with an intuitive flow, determines its accessibility. When designing a website, the designer has adopted simple principles such as:

  • Propose actions through icons instead of colors, making it easy to navigate for those with color blindness.
  • Make the activation of features such as magnifying glass (zoom), automatic subtitles, transcripts and audio descriptions available to those with visual or hearing impairment, particularly on social networks.

The more accessibility a site offers, the higher the traffic.

We can therefore see that, in addition to the social issues, digital exclusion is a pressing issue for brands, whose products and services could be sold, were it not for the lack of accessibility and/or digital ability to acquire them.

Intuitive interfaces that improve the user experience

Accessibility tools

While accessibility tools are indispensable for those with a physical disability that limits their navigation, they are useful for all users – including offline.

The user can proactively search for accessibility options in the “Settings” menu of their own smartphone or tablet. These are generally categorized by senses (vision, hearing, physical/motor):

icone de acessibilidade no smartphone

Voice Software

Voice is an increasingly used feature in the media.

Voice interfaces make it much easier to navigate for the blind and for those with no mobility in their hands, because they require nearly no vision or touch, just to talk.

In practice, they are virtual assistants that respond to simple commands, such as presenting results of a voice search or facilitating the flow of access in the device menu.

To do this, the interface must indicate concisely, without excessive options, the possibilities and commands that the users have at their disposal.

Example: Accessibility by numbers

Apple has created a feature where you, instead of dictating each action, you just have to indicate the number corresponding the action. After all, saying a number is simpler and faster.

After enabling voice control in the Accessibility menu, the user says “show numbers” and the interface assigns a digit  to each  icon or field, simply following the flow to complete the actions:

smartphone com números como acessibilidade

Keyboard shortcuts

There are keyboard commands that can be incorporated into the system’s components, articulating with the main keys (space, control, enter, tab, arrows) so that the user can access a link, merge between buttons, etc.

The goal is not to have a keyboard or mouse dependency.

For example, in Windows there are these possibilities, among others:

atalho do teclado do windows

Screen features

Braille keyboard

A physical braille keyboard is available, and the users can insert braille characters by typing 6 dots on the screen, either with the screen facing them or with the device facing outwards:

Teclado braille

Increase the size of the letter or page (Zoom)

Not all sites allow you to increase the size of the page or letter. It is up to ux designers to verify whether or not these site settings are blocking this functionality by default.

Contrast and colors

For blind or vision impaired people, options such as turning on the “dark theme”, where the background of the page turns black, or adjusting the contrast and colors, makes all the difference.

For example, if the user is browsing Youtube, you can set up night mode by changing the “Look” in your profile settings.

On the Android system you can activate the ‘dark theme’ in the search engine settings by adding the extension to the searchbar.

You can also customize your Windows 10 device by setting the theme in the home menu of background settings:

painel escuro smartphone

Or, if you prefer, with colors:

painel smartphone com cores

Accessibility in social networks

As a brand, there are more guidelines that can be taken to facilitate users’ access to social networks, namely:

Deinscription of images

Platforms such as Twitter or Instagram have a feature called alt text (alternative text) that allows you to add the description by words of an image.

In the case of Twitter, you only need to activate this feature in the menu “Accessibility” (in Settings), and at the time of publishing the image, select the button “add description”, where you can write what that image represents.

smartphone com a descrição do twitter

Later, a visually impaired person can then hear the image description via the Voice over (Apple) or TalkBack (Android) tool:

como ativar leitor de texto

In the case of Instagram, when you publish the image, after applying a filter or not, the Advanced Settings option appears at the bottom of the screen, which contains the option “Write alternative text”. On Instagram you can add the description even after you have posted the image.

Capital letters in hashtags

When a hashtag includes multiple words, it becomes more understandable for the voice reader (Voice over/Talk Back) to distinguish the words contained in it if the beginning of each one is displayed by a capital letter.

By way of example: if the hashtag is #weshouldallbefeminists is translated into voice, it will sound very different from We Should All Be Feminists.

Transcripts in the videos

Especially for those with hearing impairment, it is useful if the videos have a transcription. Even for those who hear well, it is much easier to follow a video that is in another language, or when there is a more difficult accent to understand, when it is accompanied by a transcription.

Channels like Youtube or Facebook currently allow you to upload subtitles or transcripts to the video as you upload it.

Thereare are also Apps, such as Aria or Clipomatic, that allow you to add subtitles to Instagram stories. That is, the video is filmed in the App, which recognizes the voice and automatically translates what is being said.

Add links to content

For users it is much easier and faster to access information when a video or other publication contains a hyperlink (link) relating to what is being addressed, rather than having to go to the root of the resources mentioned there.

StorySign – an App for Deaf Children

There is an application that allows digital reading of stories to deaf children. It’s called Huawei’s StorySign, and through Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality, it allows the gestural interpretation of the stories.

Having the physical book (available in Portuguese Sign Language) and the App already downloaded, just search the book in the StorySign Library and pass the smartphone over the physical book. The Star (avatar) then begins to interpret the text of the book in sign language.

App para crianças surdas

In addition to allowing deaf children to “hear” stories, something considered so normal for their peers, it teaches them to read, allowing them to relate words to their concept.


Digital inclusion is not limited, as we’ve seen, to having a computer or smartphone, apple or Android preference, Facebook use, or Netflix subscription. In fact, it goes far beyond internet access: it has to do with the ease of using technologies for our benefit in daily life.

But in order to have digital inclusion accessibility has to be available, ensuring that anyone, regardless of their age or physical condition, can easily use technological devices. This accessibility begins with the architecture of the interfaces, ensured by ux designers.

In a way, technological accessibility is a right of all citizens and also an added value for brands, who can thus reach more customers and, on the other hand, guarantee their SEO.

Let us finally remember that the user experience (UX) is one of the highest growing trends in marketing, so the more accessibility tools a website presents, the better the user’s interaction with the brand, which will in turn boost sales.