Many areas of business have turned their focus to making their products and services accessible. Caring for people with different types of disabilities and accommodating their needs is a sign of a healthy society. Moreover, accessible apps is an excellent opportunity to drive innovation, increase usability and customer retention, improve competitive advantage, reduce potential legal risk and improve lives of disabled people.
Unfortunately, often during the app developing process, developers completely overlook the significance of accessibility, whereas accessibility stopped being an optional feature; it is an important part of contemporary mobile industry.
Statistically speaking, one in seven people has some sort of disability and may not be able to use mobiles apps equally to other users. Android and iOS has responded to the demand and enabled their developers use accessibility tools to create user experience that satisfies people with disabilities as well as other users.
Few people know that Siri was initially planned as a virtual assistant to disabled people. Today, Siri and Alexa has won the hearts of million users all over the world and haptic technology has become a part of our daily lives.
What is also worth remembering is that apart from the ethical side, people with disabilities make 15% of the population. Creating an accessible app can help you gain additional clients in a very eco-friendly way and differentiate your company from the competitors.
Why there is a lack of accessible apps, you may wonder. The key reason why accessible apps are few is that there is a lack of developers who have experience in making and testing the apps with accessibility features. Additionally, while there is a set of approved guidelines for making accessible websites (WCAG), there are no guidelines for making accessible mobile apps.
Let us have a closer look at what they mean by accessibility.
Basically, accessibility means that products and services are designed in a way that enables people with disabilities use them. Disabilities or impairments have different forms. The main ones that are relevant to using mobile apps are mobility, vision, hearing and literacy.
People with mobility disability may have fine motor skills issues that makes it hard for them to navigate a mobile app. Therefore, tapping, swiping or other gestures should be configurable to give better flexibility to a user. They should not be essential in navigating an app for these type of users. Android and iOS have already introduced shortcuts for frequently used phrases or words as well as timing between presses on the screen. The size of the buttons or other tappable icons can also be adjusted to the right size for a user.
Vision impairments can include vision loss, colour blindness or complete blindness. This category of users suffers the most from not having an accessible app to use. The most commonly used technology in this case is screen reading software that vocalises what appears on screen.
Hearing impairments can range in the ability to hear sounds. Depending on the severity, videos can have subtitles or captions to compensate for the sound and accommodate the needs for this category of users.
Literacy is by far the most overlooked area when creating accessible products. Raising awareness and filling the need of making apps for people with this type of disability is important. The surveys revealed that literacy disability goes far beyond the developing countries. Functional illiteracy, functional innumeracy and digital illiteracy are the most common learning disadvantages. One in nine people in the Netherlands experience reading and writing difficulty; one in seven people in the US have below basic literacy level and one in five people below basic level of quantitative literacy. Mobile apps can accommodate the needs of this type of users through using shorter sentences, commonly recognised iconography and clearer instructions. Voice recognition feature would also be very beneficial.
Considering the above, here are some useful tips to bear in mind when you create an accessible app.
1. Stay consistent
Consistency is always an important aspect in UX design, but it pays back when it comes to users with disability. Make sure you have consistent design across your app as well as across interfaces – wherever it is mobility, vision, hearing or literacy focused app.
Make sure you separate actions from the content on the screen. They should be clearly marked, have other style from the rest of the text and again, have a consistent layout. Even though there are no approved guidelines for making accessible mobile apps, following the Material Design guidelines from Google or the Human Interface Guidelines from Apple will help users with impairments to navigate your app.
In addition, make sure that users get a warning before they choose an action that leads to closing an app.
3. User Interface
It is good to have an app that can be viewed in different scale – zooming in and out should represent the content on screen equally well.
Foreground and background contrasts are just as important. Light on white or dark on black are hard to read even for a regular user. Make sure the text is well contrasted with the fore- or background.
Presenting content on screen is an important part of an app design. While there is a large variety of fancy fonts, including curvy and cursive styles, choose a simpler font for your app to improve readability.
Images are great addition to support text, but not very helpful to those who have vision disability. Therefore, make sure your images have captions and a detailed description of what is happening on the image. This gives visually impaired users equal experience and opportunity to enjoy app content through text-to-speech readers. This should not apply to decorative images though to avoid confusing your users.
Video and audio files in your app should have the tools to change the volume of the sound, provide subtitles/transcription and be easy to use by all customers.
Once your app has been developed, the testing stage comes in. This is an important part of any app creation, let alone an accessibility app. Apart from the overall functionality test, the QA expert should thoroughly check all accessibility tools and sign it off only if everything works properly. A good idea would be engaging a group of potential users with various types of disability and get them to test the app.
Now the question is what platform to use for your accessibility app since Android and iOS have their own accessibility solutions. Let us see what they are.
Screen readers – this technology is used for visually and learning impaired users and transforms text into speech. Android uses Google Voice Assistant and iOS uses VoiceOver technology for this. The app content is seen as components. Using gestures, the user can navigate through these components in the app. Both platforms have quite similar navigation gestures in this respect.
Keyboards – Android users can navigate through app using bluetooth keyboard, just like navigating on a desktop PC. iOS, on the other hand, cannot operate on keyboard alone. It takes VoiceOver to be turned on and yet it has certain navigation limitations compared to its peer. Android also supports braille keyboards along with BrailleBack accessibility solution.
If you follow the change in EU regulations, it is a matter of a couple of years when providing accessible products becomes a legal requirement. Thinking ahead by creating an accessible app for your business may not only land you with more customers, but also save you from the hassle of developing an app on the run, risking the quality.
Creating a better user experience has never been as important. So, use this chance and develop an app with accessible solutions to accommodate the needs of users with disabilities.