Mobile Accessibility Best Practices For An Optimal User Experience

24 Jul. 2017 Mobile App

“Mobile accessibility” is the practice of making mobile websites and applications more accessible to people with disabilities/limited network etc. While web accessibility is an established practice and has been documented extensively, there is little that is known on the subject of mobile accessibility. World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s web accessibility initiative (WAI) has specific guidelines and directives to address access for devices. There are several levels of web/mobile accessibility and all app developers and businesses must consider providing the basics to create an inclusive and optimum experience for all their potential users. But first, let’s understand why accessibility is the need of the hour.

Mobile Accessibility Best Practice

Mobile Accessibility Makes The App More User-Friendly

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Why Accessibility?

Disability is an umbrella term, defined as ‘a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.’ It’s an impairment that could be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or some perhaps a combination of these. Millions of web users across the world have some disability or the other and yet they are active users who depend on the internet for a number of things possible with the help of assistive technologies. In addition to physical disability, the purpose of creating accessible mobile and web apps is also inclusivity for the widest possible user base. This means creating apps that are fast and easily accessible in low connectivity networks and remote regions. Some types of users that need accessibility include:

  • Color blind users who may have trouble differentiating text on a button from the button’s background color
  • Dyslexic users who may not be able to comprehend large blocks of text
  • Users with limited motor skills that may not be able to maneuver the mouse adequately or tap smaller buttons on the smart phone screen
  • Users with intellectual disability or seniors who may not be able to process complicated instructions

Best Practice Regulations

Mobile apps (including mobile web apps) are governed by the same standards for access by people with disabilities that apply to non-mobile software and web applications. Applicable U.S. laws such as the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), Section 508, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply in different ways.
Mobile app development should include accessibility analysis as part of its product planning. Mobile app designers need to consider four main aspects of disabled access when developing their apps:

  1. Visual:
    Visually impaired users need labels and visual cues to enter the right information in the correct place. A number of users are color blind and so adequate color contrast is required on web pages especially web forms or other interactive pages that require user input. There are various online tools and checklists that help designers to code better for color blindness.
    Use of larger size text or at least the ability to resize the text is necessary for senior users or those with low vision. Increase readability by using the higher contrast between text font colors and the background. Also, the choice of typography and font should enhance the user experience and legibility. It is mandatory to provide text alternatives for meaningful images (that is images that convey information). This also means you need to denote the right links to help screen readers in identifying navigable elements. Other factors that enhance the visual accessibility include Adjustable brightness/contrast controls, backlit display, and voice recognition.
  2. Auditory:
    Hearing impaired users have difficulty listening to audio notifications, audio content, and instructions. To ensure auditory accessibility, always include text transcripts and captions for all audio material. Also, offer text alternatives for any non-text(audio) content. You can ensure an accessible auditory experience by including text transcripts or captions.
    Provide text alternatives for any non-text content (such as audio) so that users can access it in a format best understood. Vibrating alerts/visual notifications help users to recognize alerts when the device blinks or vibrates
  3. Physical:
    Users with limited motor skills can find routine in-app tasks challenging, for example, pinching, spreading and flicking, tapping buttons and controlling sliding bars on a mobile device. Allowing hands-free control with the help of speech recognition software and allowing voice commands to operate and navigate the app.
    Users should also be allowed to adjust the speed required to navigate through the screen pages.
  4. Cognitive:
    People with cognitive disabilities suffer from a wide spectrum of impairments ranging from attention, memory, comprehension, communication, computational or reading skills. They find it extremely difficult to follow complex text or instructions.
    Provide simple and clear instructions, design an intuitive interface. Use consistent UI elements and prominent icons to make the app navigation simpler.
    Features and practices such as read aloud with simultaneous text highlighting, predictive or auto-text for input fields, adjustable time for completing in-app tasks, avoiding jargon/large blocks of text help users to consume the information and commands easily.

Tools for Mobile App Accessibility

There are several organizations and companies that specialize in mobile app testing and can offer you the desired level of testing and compliance. Additionally, you can use tools like HTML validator, Accessibility checker, broken link checkers, color contrast analyzer and screen readers to find out how accessible your app is. Moreover, there are several apps and resources for testing mobile app accessibility for Android and iOS apps.

To Sum It Up…

Mobile app accessibility is increasingly becoming important owing to a large number of mobile users with a disability. Creating an inclusive app means fundamentally designing an app that is simpler to use, with clear instructions and plain English – catering to all types of audiences that may have a visual, auditory, cognitive or physical disability. There are several mobile accessibility guidelines to check your app’s compliance and many resources that help you design and develop more accessible apps.

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