App Accessibility: Valuable for All Apps

1 year 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) 2 standards do not specifically address mobile apps, we think app accessibility is the right thing to do on many levels. 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 a clean, intuitive design that can be easily navigated by users of different abilities. If your interface isn’t easy to use by those who have no impairments, it will be even more of a struggle for those who do. But simply being good at UX/UI isn’t enough. It’s critical that you are consciously designing for relevant types of disabilities – your user profiles ought to take this into account. There are a wide range of potential impairments to consider (e.g. visual, hearing, cognitive or movement limitations), and each will differently affect the way users interact with an app.

For example, visual impairments, ranging from color blindness to low visual acuity and blindness, affect the way users perceive an app’s color scheme, font size, and contrast settings, making it difficult for users 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.

Similarly, hearing-impaired users need alternatives to audio-only features. Subtitles for videos, increased volume, and the ability to mute ambient sound are features that help hearing-impaired users interact with an app.

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

What Does Accessibility Look Like in Practice?

App accessibility in practice is pretty inspiring, and advances in technology are rapidly enabling even more to be possible. There are a number of apps that have been built to aid those with disabilities, and this round-up highlights a few of the most exciting. Equally exciting, but perhaps less common, are mainstream apps that are built with features that make the app usable by people with and without physical or cognitive limitations.

We recently 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. People with disabilities and those who require larger print as they age benefit from this feature.

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

Facebook is also leading the way on incorporating and developing accessibility features. They have numerous initiatives, including one around object detection and identification in images. This fairly complicated multi-stage process uses machine vision systems and deep convolutional neural networks to detect, delineate, and classify items within a photo. The collection of images below shows the output of their object detection system, where a variety of salient objects within different images have been identified and labeled:
Accessibility - Image Detect
When this initiative comes to fruition, it will have a number of applications, including some for those who are visually impaired. As noted in their post on the subject, “People with vision loss, too, will be able to understand what is in a photo their friends share because the system will be able to tell them, regardless of the caption posted alongside the image… Currently, visually impaired users browsing photos on Facebook only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo,” when they come upon an image in their News Feed. Instead we aim to offer richer descriptions, such as ‘Photo contains beach, trees, and three smiling people.’”
Accessibility - Facebook

What Resources Exist to Develop for App Accessibility?

We strongly encourage clients to build accessible apps, and work hard to make sure doing so is affordable. There are thankfully a number of resources now available to support implementation. On the web, the Web Accessibility Initiative “brings together individuals and organizations from around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities.”

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 the way taps and swipes are interpreted by the system to augment usability for those who cannot see.
  • The Accessibility Inspector for iOS, which runs through the app to find common accessibility issues and provides a live preview of all accessibility elements within the app.
  • Apple’s Dynamic Type. As noted above, it allows users to specify their preferred font size for apps that support Dynamic Type. In the latest version of their OS, iOS 11, Apple makes it possible for developers to support this feature even if custom fonts are being employed.
  • Google’s TalkBack is a built-in screen reader for Android devices. When TalkBack is on, users can interact with their device 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.

There are quite a few features beyond these that can be leveraged to make an app accessible, and we expect more will follow. While we have focused on how these features can benefit those with disabilities, many benefit all users. The ability to navigate an app using voice commands is useful for a user with their hands full. Watching a video with subtitles is a perfect alternative when people are somewhere they can’t play audio, and large touch targets are just easier for everyone. The more people who can easily access, navigate, and engage with an app, the more successful it will be.

If you’re interested in adding app accessibility features to an app you’ve built, please get in touch!

Download our free eBook

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.
Recent Posts

Business & Strategy

How Company Culture Drives Innovation in App Development

In today’s fast-paced, high-demand digital world, clients expect app development agencies to deliver highly innovative and top-notch solutions—an impossible task without the right people working. Companies that prioritize creating creative workplace cultures are well suited to hire and keep talent that drives productivity, teamwork, and respect.  A company’s culture is critical to its success in the app development industry. This blog post explores how an innovative workplace culture within an app development agency can lead to better solutions and experiences for digital product owners. What is innovative company culture? An innovative company culture is a collaborative environment that encourages out-of-the-box thinking and fosters a spirit of exploration and experimentation. It’s a paradigm that values diversity and inclusion, understanding that unique perspectives are the bedrock of originality and innovation. A supportive company culture: Practices clear communication and mutual respect, creating a space where everyone feels heard and validated. Emphasizes creativity and intellectual curiosity, encouraging employees to challenge norms and create disruptive solutions. Trusts employees, cultivating a landscape where individuals feel safe to express ideas without fear of judgment or ridicule. Shies away from office politics, focusing on collective progress rather than individual agendas. More and more employees are seeking this innovative and empowering company culture. A recent study by Glassdoor found that 77% of job seekers consider company culture before applying for a job, and 56% of employees rank culture as more important than salary. These numbers indicate a shift in the job market, with employees prioritizing personal growth, creativity, and job satisfaction over financial remuneration. This shift changes how companies attract talent and significantly impacts team synergy and client satisfaction. How Company Culture Fuels Innovation Among App Development Employees Consider a high-performing app development team. Behind their success, you’ll often find a vibrant, supportive company culture providing the backbone for their achievements. This culture doesn’t just exist; it actively molds, empowers, and inspires the team in key ways. Employee Longevity & Retention A positive company culture: Fosters employee loyalty. Boosts morale. Reduces turnover rates. Leads to a more dedicated, efficient, and satisfied workforce. This culture is a noteworthy factor in retaining talent and attracting new, competent employees, thereby contributing significantly to an organization’s success and efficiency. At InspiringApps, we prioritize building a workplace culture that inspires creativity and empowers employees to innovate and contribute meaningfully. All these facets of the company culture allow our team to thrive and grow at the company, leading to long tenures. Nearly 40% of our team has worked together for six years or more.  A statement from an InspiringApps team member on our recent anonymous survey illustrates the power of culture to impact retention: “I have never worked with such a talented and supportive group of people. Management is incredibly honest, transparent, and ethical, and if anything, I never want to leave!” Collaboration, Teamwork & Respect Maintaining respect in the workplace and presuming the best of your teammates is essential for any successful company. Errors are usually a result of process problems, not people, and a good company acknowledges that to make room for understanding and learning rather than blame and defensiveness. This approach significantly reduces the negative impacts of office politics on team dynamics, fostering a more supportive and collaborative atmosphere. An environment where each member feels valued, heard, and judgment-free, truly fuels innovation. When people feel safe to think differently, take calculated risks, and push boundaries without fear of retribution, they can contribute to creating innovative products that resonate in the marketplace. InspiringApps values teamwork and collaboration, with employees contributing in good faith and focusing on producing the best work. The absence of politics and the encouragement of mutual respect create a positive atmosphere where everyone’s voice is valued. In another quote from our recent employee survey: “Management finds the best people to hire in every department. Mutual respect is genuine among all team members.” Impact of Positive Company Culture on Clients A vibrant and positive company culture benefits employees and profoundly impacts clients. When employees are motivated and respected and work collaboratively, it translates into their work and service quality. Clients receive exceptional quality products and services, building trust and strengthening relationships. The energy of a positive work environment permeates through every interaction, making clients feel valued and appreciated in a few specific ways. Client Benefits of a Positive, Supportive Culture Good communication with app partners brings clients a significant business advantage. Working with a flexible, positive, and problem-solving-oriented team ensures that client needs are accurately understood, prioritized, and effectively addressed, resulting in tailored solutions that align perfectly with their business goals. This transparent, open, and consistent communication minimizes misunderstandings, reduces project delays, and increases efficiency. It fosters a synergistic relationship in which clients are regularly updated and are part of the decision-making process, thereby nurturing trust and satisfaction. Ultimately, these elements contribute positively to the client’s bottom line, as the more accurately the solution addresses their needs, the greater the return on their investment.  InspiringApps’ style brings these benefits to the forefront. While bringing an outside expert perspective, our honest approach to problem-solving helps propel solutions forward. For example, our client, Fidelity National Financial, commended our collaborative approach: “We appreciate that the InspiringApps team is straightforward and honest. If there’s something we’re doing that doesn’t make sense, or that’s hard, we just have conversations about it. No games, no dancing around it—you just tell us, and we work through it together.” Client Benefits of a Collaborative Culture In many situations, clients who partner with app development companies boasting a robust collaborative culture enjoy amplified project success. Having access to a top-tier talent pool, they are privy to the best and most innovative ideas coming to the fore. This collective talent shares many perspectives, brainstorming ways to approach the project to optimally meet the client’s vision and goals. The collaborative culture ensures that the team is not merely ticking off a task list but engaged in a continuous process of ideation, refinement, and innovation.  At InspiringApps, our culture results in a bespoke solution that encapsulates the client’s unique needs and aspirations, far exceeding a standard, one-size-fits-all product. As a recent InspiringApps client, Good Nutrition Ideas, stated: “Working with the InspiringApps team of designers and developers was an excellent first app experience for us. They were already familiar with accessibility issues in apps and app development, and they continued to learn and deliver on this app directed at people with disabilities. We anticipate working with them again, which is the best recommendation there is!” Supportive Company Culture: A Win for Employees & Clients An innovative workplace culture within an app development agency is vital in creating better solutions and experiences for digital product owners. Creating a supportive work environment emphasizing teamwork, innovation, and respect leads to a highly motivated, engaged, and productive workforce. Moreover, these qualities lay the groundwork for creating a solid foundation for employees’ personal and professional growth, resulting in an overall positive experience both for employees and clients. At InspiringApps, we remain committed to fostering an exceptional workplace culture, driving employee engagement and productivity, and developing innovative solutions. We’re proud that, as a result, we’ve been Certified™ by Great Place to Work®  for three consecutive years. Discover how culture fuels everything we do by viewing our Inspired Employees Make InspiringApps series.

3 months ago

App Development

People, Process & Scalability

The goal of building an app is to eventually watch it grow in popularity. No business owner has ever said, “I’ll spend money on an app and hope it stays at the bottom of the download chart!”  Scalability is the end game for most apps, but it is more than just building the app and hoping someone downloads it in a crowded app store. Defining scalability—the balancing act between taking an application’s capacity to grow while maintaining its performance—should be top of mind for any organization developing or adapting applications. Dozens of factors complicate scaling. Development teams must consider future-proofing code, responding quickly to scope or requirement changes, and focusing on the people involved: end users, developers, and designers. People-first scaling demands thoughtful strategies on how best resources can efficiently meet customer needs while aiming for superior results. In this blog, our engineers and developers offer insights into the power of people and processes and how they work together to reach scalability goals. What is scalability? Scalability refers to the capability of expanding a system in a focused and strategic manner, allowing it to effectively handle increased traffic and accommodate growing demands. App scalability involves thorough documentation and the accumulation of knowledge right from the outset, ensuring a solid foundation for future growth. When done right, scalability enables you to spend more time solving business vs. technical problems—and saves money in both coding and maintenance. While there may be multiple approaches to achieving scalability, the key lies in carefully selecting one method and remaining consistent throughout the system’s development and evolution. By doing so, organizations can ensure the scalability of their systems and effectively adapt to changing needs and requirements. Considerations for Scalability Clarify Your Goals: Engineering teams need to set crystal-clear goals to achieve scalability. Understand different ways to achieve scalability, including a surge in traffic, orders, sales users, or speed. Map out a timeline and budget for your scaling endeavors, ideally before you begin the project. Build for the Future: Launching a minimum viable product (MVP) is a quick and cost-effective way to get started on a small virtual machine. However, it’s crucial to approach it with a forward-looking perspective. Engineers and developers may need help with the temptation to optimize too soon, so leaving room for future optimization and app growth is vital. Plan for Scope Changes: In a project, it’s not a question of whether the scope changes but when it does. Scaling brings changing requirements in terms of technology and features. It is crucial to acknowledge this from the beginning while building. The key is to ensure extensibility. People-First Scaling Developers and engineers should remember that their creations are not solely meant for fellow developers (although a widely used application will inevitably involve interactions with many developers along the way). It is equally important to consider other stakeholders who will interact with the application, such as designers, stakeholders, and end users. Here are some valuable insights on scaling with a people-first approach. Test Assumptions Don’t rely on untested assumptions about what users want from an app. Users generally desire fast, high-quality, cost-effective solutions, but achieving all three can be challenging. Instead of presuming, ask the right questions. For example, inquire about the importance of loading videos quickly or whether security or speed takes precedence. You can gain valuable insights to guide your decisions by asking these pertinent questions. Delay Decisions Delay decisions as long as possible. Small decisions made over time can compound into something unattainable. This is especially true with end users, particularly in the case of native mobile apps. Users have specific expectations regarding how these apps should operate compared to web apps. While many things may change and evolve, having good, clean code will facilitate these changes. Investing time in writing quality code is always worthwhile. Stay Focused To achieve scalability, developers should decouple components to enable independent functionality, making updates more manageable. When considering mobile scaling, there are three key aspects to focus on: Evaluating how to scale new features effectively. Implementing compartmentalization to enable independent work for future developers joining the project. Developing strategies to ensure updates are tolerable. Respect Your Team You’ll undoubtedly add new team members who bring a fresh perspective to a complex project. However, it’s essential to carefully evaluate recommendations and changes. How one new person does something could lead to developing a bad habit that becomes the norm. To scale an app with your people on top of your mind, it all comes down to respect. You’re all learning from one another, from the developer to the designer to the user who downloads. Focus on building a collaborative environment for everyone to be able to scale together. Establishing a Process To Scale Your App Maintaining and managing a project is crucial for building a solid code base. If you continuously onboard developers to work on an ever-expanding list of features, prioritizing your process becomes paramount. Avoid taking shortcuts and establish a robust foundation for long-term success. Here are a few tips for creating a process that will stick. Defining a Process When working with multiple developers, teams, and leaders, it is crucial to establish transparent processes. Leaders play a vital role in determining the essence of the application, while smaller teams focus on tackling specific feature sets. Frequently, these teams operate in parallel but independently, emphasizing the need for proper staffing and training to ensure consistency and seamless integration. However, avoiding overstaffing is essential, as involving too many individuals can hinder progress. Research suggests that there is a tipping point where additional resources slow down progress in the wrong direction. Documentation Matters To mitigate potential issues, anticipate future questions from your team, establish well-defined tickets, clearly define your workflow and responsibilities, and clarify specific acceptance criteria. Things To Watch Out For Rushed coding can lead to sloppy development and an app vulnerable when scaled. Refactoring or restructuring the code without altering its original functionality may be necessary to address these issues. However, refactoring can pose a significant challenge when it comes to scaling, as it requires keeping the base code of the project intact, even as scope and requirements change. Refactoring can add years of work to the project, especially at the platform level. Secret to Scaling: Value Your People & Process Successful scaling of an application is not solely dependent on technology but equally hinges on the people involved and the processes they follow. People-first scaling, focusing on the suitable composition of teams, well-defined roles, and proper training, is integral to achieving streamlined operations and meeting project goals. Equally important is establishing robust development processes, which guide the production of high-quality code and form the bedrock of a scalable application. Processes ensure an app remains resilient despite changing requirements. Scaling is about balancing the human element with the technical and ensuring that one complements the other.

5 months ago

Blog Categories
App Design
App Development
App Marketing
Business & Strategy
Client Projects
Culture & Innovation
Digital Products
Events
InspiringApps News
Mobile Industry
Technology
Webinars