Usability and older adults: analysis of the public bodies' websites in the Board of Castilla y León



Usability and older adults: analysis of the public bodies' websites in the Board of Castilla y León
Name: Program to support research projects. Order EDU/1599/2007
Resolution: B.O.C. and L. nº 127. Thursday 3rd of July 2008. Ref PON04B08
Public body: Board of Castilla y León. Ministry of Education, Culture and Tourism
University: Pontifical University of Salamanca
Coordinator: Alberto Pedrero Esteban
01.10.2008 - 31.12.2009
Participating Organizations
Pontifical University of Salamanca
Brief Description
Teaching older adults how to use new technologies can facilitate their integration in society and also make their lives easier. However, this group faces many problems when it comes to use computers. In today's society, where the Net is becoming a key element to access information and a an almost unlimited source of resources and services of all kind, it would be convenient for all these possibilities to be also used by older adults.
Public bodies are including more information to their websites (legislation, schedules, deadlines, applications, notifications, subventions,…) and services (it is possible to make some procedures on-line, not having to go to the public body's office). This research wants to evaluate the usability of certain websites of the regional administration, analyze the latest suggestions on the field of usability for older adults and propose and evaluate modifications that will guarantee a more effective an efficient use of these services by the group of older adults.


Specific goals
1.      Identify the problems of usability that older adults face when it comes to access the websites of regional public bodies. The following websites of the regional administration will be considered:
·        Department of Public Administration, portal of the Board of Castilla y León
·        Health Portal of the Board of Castilla y León
·        Foundation 'Siglo para las Artes' of Castilla y León
The selection of these 3 portals (Public Administration, Health Portal and Foundation 'Siglo') was carried out thinking of the information and services that would be of interest for the group of older adults.
2.      Propose solutions for the problems found in the previous section.
3.      Evaluate the suitability of the suggested solutions making new tests with users of the group.
Summary of the Project
Usability refers to 'the way a product can be used by certain users to achieve specific goals in an effective, efficient and satisfactory way in an specific context of use' (ISO 9241-11). Colloquially we would ask if it is easy to use. Accessibility, in website design, refers to the lack of barriers that would make it difficult for people with disabilities to notice, understand, surf and interact with the website.
Two of the used techniques for evaluation are the application of heuristics (or heuristic evaluation) and the user's test. Both techniques have been used during this research in order to detect possible usability problems in the websites of the Board of Castilla y León. The obtained results are the following::
·          In general, the aspects of usability and specific heuristics for older adults are been respected.
·          However, there are still usability deficiencies, mainly on netsurfing matters (recognizing links, notification of visited links, high amount of elements in the menus, organization of contents showing the organic structure or the offices of the Board, etc) that can affect the experience of any group of users when using it (not only older adults).
·          The design of the different portals has not considered the characteristics of older adults. That is why there are problems regarding the size of the letters, space between lines, poor contrast in some colour combinations, use of too small images or difficult to interpret (which also sometimes have no alternative text), … These deficiencies can make it difficult for the group of older adults to access the website.
·          The accessiblity rule (level AA) is not met in one of the three websites considered. This can make the access to the content even more difficult to the group of older adults.
The modifications proposed at the end of the report can help to avoid the detected problems from reducing the access of the older adults to the offered services, avoiding also a future social separation that would exclude these users from using these services.