App Accessibility: Valuable for All Apps

2 months ago
App Accessibility: Valuable for All Apps Image

App accessibility refers to the concept of building an app in such a way that it is usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, including those who are living with disabilities. While the ADA’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) doesn’t have a separate rulebook for mobile apps, it’s still the gold standard for making them accessible. Even from a pragmatic perspective, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, so overlooking app accessibility reduces your potential user base significantly.

What makes an app accessible?

The first step in making an app accessible for everyone is creating a clean, intuitive design that users of different abilities can easily navigate. If your interface isn’t easy for people who have no impairments to use, it will be even more of a struggle for people who do. 

But we must also consciously design for different types of disabilities. There are various potential impairments to consider, and each will impact how users interact with an app differently. Your user profiles should consider this.

Visual

For example, visual impairments, ranging from color blindness to low visual acuity and blindness, affect how users perceive an app’s color scheme, font size, and contrast settings, making it difficult to see what the app is displaying. The ability to change the display settings or navigate the app using text-to-speech technology will enable visually impaired users who would not otherwise be able to interact with the app.

Hearing

Hearing-impaired users need alternatives to audio-only features. Features such as video subtitles, increased volume, and the ability to mute ambient sound help hearing-impaired users interact with an app.

Movement

Movement impairments may increase the difficulty users experience when interacting with small touch targets. Increasing the touch target size allows tolerance for error and reduces frustration for many users. Alternately, instead of battling the touch screen, some users choose to navigate the app using voice commands. Such users benefit from explicit labeling conventions for user inputs and an intuitive layout to easily command their way through the app.

In addition to the design features, clear instructions users can read, watch, or listen to will broaden an app’s reach and allow users to engage in a way that is most useful for them.

A young man in a wheelchair using his phone

What does accessibility look like in practice?

App accessibility in practice is about including everyone. Advancements in technology are rapidly enabling even more inclusive design. Many apps are being built with features that make them usable by everyone, regardless of ability. This is equally as important as creating specialized apps for people with disabilities.

“From mobile banking to staying connected, there are so many essential things you simply can’t do without a phone these days. As designers, we are responsible for ensuring our apps are fully accessible so no one is excluded from these critical aspects of daily life.” 
—BECCA COLLINS, UI/UX DESIGNER, INSPIRINGAPPS

Example: Empath

We improved visual accessibility for users of the Empath app, an app built to enable people to share their feelings in a safe environment. Empath features a feed where users post and read updates about how others are doing. The initial build of the app was not dynamic, and all users were forced to read the smaller fonts typically displayed.

To broaden app accessibility, we implemented Apple’s Dynamic Type in critical parts of the app. Dynamic Type allows users to indicate their preferred reading size (within a range). Apps that support Dynamic Type then adjust to the preferred reading size automatically. This feature benefits people with disabilities and those who require larger print as they age.

Adding Dynamic Type was not simply a developer effort but also a design one—our designers had to consider ways other elements on the screen would dynamically change so that the app looked beautiful and functioned well, regardless of what size type was employed.

Example: My Meals My Way

Good Nutrition Ideas collaborated with InspiringApps to develop the My Meals My Way mobile app, which simplifies meal planning for individuals with disabilities and older adults. Users can create unique profiles, build meals based on their needs, and share both meals and shopping lists with caregivers. The app strongly emphasizes accessibility in several ways, including:

  • Profile building based on the user’s dietary and eating needs
  • Ensuring high color contrast
  • Providing text descriptions and captions for images
  • Embedded app tutorial videos with voiceover and captions
  • Accessibility labeling of interactive elements to support Voice Control navigation
  • Dynamic Type compatible fonts and scalable UI elements that give users the ability to set preferred reading sizes
  • Offering an intuitive user experience with clear directions and consistent design throughout the platform

Building an inclusive experience was our goal. Accessibility audits, user feedback, and best practices guided every decision in content, design, and development.

A woman wearing headphones sits at a desk with a laptop, while a person in a wheelchair chats with others in the background.

What resources exist to develop accessible apps?

Making your app accessible doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Here are some free resources to streamline the process and ensure you reach the widest possible audience.

POUR Principles

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an international set of guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the web’s governing body. These guidelines, which form the basis of most web accessibility laws worldwide, are based on the “POUR” principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.

The POUR principles make it easy to remember the guidelines for creating an accessible app:

  1. Perceivable: Information should be presented in multiple ways, such as providing text descriptions for images, using captions, and ensuring good color contrast.
  2. Operable: Users should have the ability to navigate and interact with the app using various methods. Think clear structure, descriptive links, and keyboard accessibility.
  3. Understandable: The app’s interface and content should be easy to comprehend. In other words, provide clear instructions, consistent design, and plain language.
  4. Robust: The app must support various assistive technologies and user needs by including descriptive metadata and conducting accessibility testing.

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides extensive information on accessibility best practices and guidelines, including a free course on making digital technology accessible and detailed documentation on mobile accessibility mapping.

Apple & Google Accessibility Standards

Both iOS and Android also offer complete accessibility guidelines, as well as several phone-based features for mobile developers to employ. Some highlights:

  • Apple’s VoiceOver. Developers can integrate VoiceOver in an app to change how the system interprets taps and swipes, augmenting usability for the visually impaired.
  • The Accessibility Inspector for iOS runs through the app to find common accessibility issues and provides a live preview of all accessibility elements within the app.
  • Google’s TalkBack is a built-in screen reader for Android devices. When TalkBack is on, users can interact with their devices without seeing the screen.
  • Switch Access from Google lets motor-impaired users interact with Android devices using a switch (like an external keyboard or buttons) instead of the touch screen.

Beyond what we’ve mentioned, there is a whole world of features that can make your app truly inclusive. The good news is that new tools are constantly emerging to empower even more users.

Accessibility Benefits Everyone

The benefits of accessibility extend far beyond those with disabilities. Consider these everyday situations:

  • Busy morning commute? Voice commands let users navigate hands-free.
  • In a noisy environment? Subtitles ensure users don’t miss a beat.
  • Is sunshine making your screen glare? Increased font size offers a comfortable reading experience.

The truth is that features designed for accessibility make your app more user-friendly for everyone. This translates to a wider audience, a better user experience, and a more successful app.

The more people who can easily access, navigate, and engage with an app, the more successful it will be.

Ready to make your app accessible?

We’re here to help! Contact us to discuss how to easily integrate accessibility features into your app.

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InspiringApps: A Business Perspective on Building Mobile Apps was written to help you evaluate ideas and turn the best ones into a genuinely successful app for use within your company or for consumer sale.
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