Since ancient times, technology has been used as a social tool to improve human quality of life. Recently, with the huge impulse in mobile software development and the growing amount of users, accessibility has become a matter of high importance.
When we speak about accessibility, we mean the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. This concept frequently focuses on people with disabilities and their right of access, enabling the use of assistive technology.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium’s, the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web. They consist of a set of guidelines that app makers should follow to make content accessible to people with disabilities.
Websites have demanded much of the attention at the time of making information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Lately, mobile app development has come into the accessibility discussion. Developers and accessibility experts affirm that most of the approaches used in the web world can also be applied to the field of mobile devices and apps.
As well, mobile OS’s offer guidelines for the development of accessible applications.
Accessibility in Android and iOS
Accessibility in app design is present in a wide range of technologies. For visually impaired users, assistive technologies include screen readers.
Android TalkBack and iOS VoiceOver are accessibility features for visionless users for Android and iOS devices, respectively. Both of these features provide spoken feedback to the user to describe what they are touching, selecting, activating, etc.
Other features include Android Explore by Touch. This is a system feature that works with TalkBack, allowing you to touch your device’s screen and hear what’s happening via spoken feedback. This feature is helpful to users with low vision.
Voice recognition is also a very useful feature that can help blind people to use voice commands for dialing and accessing features on the phone. As an example, these technologies assist disabled people in simple daily tasks like reading and writing sms or making a phone call or setting an alarm clock, as well as more complicated ones like using a mobile banking application to pay bills.
Mobile app developers can help widen the spectrum of mobile apps that disabled people can use in addition to those previously installed accessibility technologies. And the task of building accessible apps doesn’t have to be enormously time consuming. That’s particularly the case when the mobile OS has accessibility features built-in.
Some design tips
Many accessibility principles for websites apply quickly to mobile development, for example, adding text to images, or accompany text to buttons or links, but some elements of accessible development don’t extend from websites to apps. There is a whole set of things specific to mobile because of the screen size and the fact they are touchable.
Here is a list that can help to ensure a minimum level of application accessibility.
- Describe user interface controls: Provide content descriptions for user interface components that do not have visible text, particularly image and checkbox components.
- Enable focus-based navigation: Make sure users can navigate the pages easily. Remember to make user interface components focusable and have a logical order.
- Custom view controls: If you build custom interface controls for your application, remember to provide content descriptions as well.
- No audio-only feedback: Audio feedback must always have a secondary feedback mechanism to support users who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Test: Test accessibility by navigating your application using directional controls and spoken feedback accessibility features.
Getting to know your audience is essential to any app project. Developers always need to understand the nature of the challenges involved.
To that end, they should read, research and learn from people with accessibility needs as the app moves through the development cycle. When testing stage is coming, don’t forget to also work with people who have the disabilities that you want to cover.
And, as a final piece of advice I would like to mention that there’s a wide gap between usability and accessibility in the mobile technology field. A clear and simple design that’s attractive to users, is not always in the same path to achieve accessibility goals.