Mobile App Accessibility

Defining Your Mobile App Accessibility Strategy

John Kenific | January 30, 2018 | Mobile App Development Mobile Strategy

Mobile app accessibility services let a person with disabilities use their smartphone for tasks such as switching between apps easily, automatically filling out forms and other inputs, and converting text to speech-to name just a few.

Were you aware that most of the over 56 million disabled Americans rely on their smartphones just as much as the rest of us? Did you realize that legal (not to mention moral) obligations require companies to develop accessible digital solutions? And the fact that individuals with disabilities are generally slower to adopt new technology only means we should all work extra hard to develop accessible mobile websites and apps that encourage adoption by a challenged audience.*

Does your company’s mobile website or application conform to today’s accessibility best practices? Does your organization have an effective strategy in place to design, build, and test accessible experiences?

What accessibility guidelines should be followed?

In general terms, if your project uses web technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS (the most common languages used to build mobile sites and hybrid mobile applications), then the app would fall under the WCAG 2.0 web content standards established by W3C.

However, mobile apps using native smartphone components with little to no HTML (e.g. Camera App, Twitter App, Instagram) fall under the Native UI Section of 508 general accessibility, reserved for non-web content and software under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) section 508.

Some definitions:

What is the ADA?
The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and requires that mobile applications be designed to accommodate people with disabilities.

What is the W3C?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community working together to develop Web standards. Directed by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe, the W3C’s mission is to enable the Web to realize its full potential. The W3C mobile guidelines may be found here.

OS-Level Accessibility Examples:

Based on your content, leverage what is already provided by the target device(s) at the OS level. Below are a few examples for both Android and iOS. Further detail can be found here.

Android O Accessibility Tools:
TalkBack lets the user interact with their device via touch and voice.

BrailleBack lets users wirelessly connect their device to a refreshable handheld braille display.

iOS Accessibility Tools:
VoiceOver is a screen reader that describes aloud objects being touched in the UI, allowing users to operate an iPhone without having to see it.

Activate Type to Siri to use a keyboard to ask questions, and quickly and easily set reminders, schedule meetings, and manage everyday tasks.

Switch Control is a set of Bluetooth-enabled hardware (switches, joysticks) lets you fully interact with your iPhone without touching it.

Features such as Speak Screen, Speak Selection, Typing Feedback, and Predictive Text help those with dyslexia and other learning disabilities by reading aloud email messages, blog posts, documents, etc.

Development & UI/UX Recommendations:

Leverage dark mode
Dark mode helps makes text more legible for those with vision issues by offering light text on dark background. In iOS 11 a “Smart Invert Colors” feature inverts the UI without altering the color of images and app icons-very helpful to individuals with this need. Android also offers a similar dark-themed Night Mode.

Audio must not the only method used to indicate input completion or notify the user of an error. Further, all audio and video media must provide a text transcript with synchronized captions.

Color and text formatting should never be the only means of communicating information. All content that relies on color to convey meaning needs to have an alternative method of disclosure. Consider that about 8% of US males are color blind-the use of colors such as green and red to indicate behaviors like “good and “bad” are acceptable to use but should not be the only way such information is conveyed.

Mobile App Accessibility

Consider more than color and contrast. Utilize opacity, font choice, patterns, textures, emboldening, and icons. Many design tools check design and code for legibility. We recommend all designers and developers add features or install plugins to assist in automating the design of color blind-friendly interfaces.

Dynamic Content
All dynamic content (e.g. contextual content, hidden menus triggered by user selection) needs to be compatible with assisted technology to enable real-time changes.

This should also include Dynamic Type, an iOS feature that lets users enlarge text on the screen. If a user needs to increase font size at the OS level, an app designed without Dynamic Type will not reflect the change (and will likely be deleted).

Error Handling
Error messages and styles need to be platform-specific (e.g. iOS, Android) and fully supported by the assisted technology. All errors need to be stated simply and clearly and must work with screen readers and other accessibility tools.

Digital inclusion is easily accomplished without a major overhaul of existing properties. A Propelics Mobile UI/UX Design Kickstart will heighten awareness to accessibility needs throughout your organization and ensure your mobile projects comply with all accessibility guidelines and best practices moving forward. The reward is simple: widen your user base by delivering the very best experience to all customers, partners, and employees. If your organization needs help integrating accessible solutions into existing mobile apps, or wants to ensure all future apps meet the necessary accessibility requirements, give us a call. We’d love to get you started.

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John Kenific

John is a seasoned technologist, with 20 years of experience - half of that in the mobile industry working in large and small companies such as Staples, to startups in the Boston area in multiple industries such as Medical Device, Finance, and Retail. He has built many mobile programs from the ground up, including Enterprise Mobile and Consumer programs. He is passionate about bringing digital capabilities to customers, both internal and external. In his spare time, John enjoys time with his three kids swimming, skiing and biking in New England.

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