Every developer should be ensuring their mobile app is accessible. Here are a few resources and tips to get you started.
In the United States alone there are around 54 million people with disabilities. This means 1 in 6 Americans has some kind of disability or impairment. Mobile apps increasingly play a role in the digital world, so it is even more important to make the internet accessible for everyone.
This is also a good practice from a business standpoint because 54 million people is a pretty big chunk of potential customers. Technology and business leaders cannot afford to ignore this demographic anymore.
If you are building a user interface (UI) for iOS and Android apps, accessibility should be at the top of your mind. Making your apps inclusive will delight your users and help you stay out of legal troubles.
If you don’t know where to start, both Apple and Google provide well-documented guidelines around accessibility. Below are the resources you should check out if you are building mobile applications.
While Apple and Google guidelines are worthwhile as reference for developers and designers, they should also use the guidelines from WCAG to understand accessibility. WCAG is a working body around web accessibility. Keep in mind, there is no official body around mobile accessibility yet. W3C is still working on updating official requirements and standards, so, unlike the web, mobile is still a work in progress.
Accessibility should be part of your testing strategy, both for web and mobile. They are both equally important. For testing, there are many independent tools, but either they are costly or require some sort of onboarding training.
Developers should leverage native screen reader tools to test functionality and ensure proper accessibility is implemented. Screen readers are used to transform text to speech. These tools can be vital to unearthing accessibility gaps in your mobile application. Check out these platform-specific native screen readers:
Some might think screen readers are no longer relevant in the day and age of Siri and Alexa. These voice assistants certainly aid users with some disabilities in making a more accessible user experience. But they are limited in ways the screen readers are not, so pay close attention to screen readers while addressing accessibility.
And better yet, conduct actual usability tests for your app with a diverse set of participants. If you are having trouble recruiting users with disabilities, you can reach out to colleges and universities, which might be able to assist you with beta users.
As a developer and now a product manager on a team that is responsible for building frontend tools and UIs, I often talk with my team about practicing consistency. Consistent experience across web and mobile will delight your users, but also allow developers to get into the right habit of building features that are accessible.
Trying to innovate too much by introducing complex UIs, you will most likely lose users and make it hard for developers to build features that are accessible. Therefore, custom UIs with no standards come with risks and require extra work around accessibility. Once your design standards have been accessibility-tested, they should be codified into a documented design system to ensure consistent implementation into the future.
Every user, with or without disabilities, should experience the same UX across different browsers and mobile platforms. Let’s explore some of the ways to build consistent user experience while addressing accessibility on mobile.
Here are some of the most relevant UX features and tips for your mobile application:
Resolution—mobile applications can be viewed at a different resolution ranging it up to 200%. Ensure your mobile applications are being built for and tested for different resolutions.
Color Contrast—there are about 300 million people who are color blind, but both Apple and Google have guidelines around color handling. This is super important for users who are color blind or have some sort of eyesight impairment. For example, always allow for color contrast between foreground and background.
Captions—for users who are blind, videos and images don’t provide meaningful experience. So always provide content description for your images using captions or alternative text. This way users with visual impairment can experience your apps the same way others do. Screen readers will read out the description supplemented with captions.
Timely Caption—it’s great that you are using captions but that is not enough. Captions will only take you so far if you are trying to meet WCAG standards. Ensure text is synced up accordingly with your audio and video so users can follow along in a timely form. Too fast or too slow will earn you negative points on accessibility.
Alternating Content—avoid alternating texts and color backgrounds on your app. Users can experience seizures from altering content. If your app does offer any of these elements, give the user an option to turn it off.
Accessibility solutions may differ from Android to iOS, but the core part of accessibility applies to all mobile platforms. Major platform providers (Apple and Google) have done a wonderful job of documenting their guidelines for developers and designers. Though each platform has its own guidelines and screen readers, developers and designers should strive to make their mobile applications more inclusive.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is hard at work to ensure digital tools are not discriminating against users with disabilities and impairments.
Accessibility for mobile devices is still new, standards are still being created and guidelines are being documented. Due to this, accessibility is overlooked by many developers. However, it is no longer a “nice-to-have” feature. Accessibility is a must for mobile applications.
Accessibility comes with a wide array of benefits—financial, moral and legal—if done right.
Mihir is a Product Manager with an extensive background in engineering. He has experience in design systems, building user-interfaces and conducting research.
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