Today, the chances are you use apps on a daily basis. Just like everyone else – people with disabilities and accessibility needs often rely on smartphones and smartphone apps as. Unfortunately, the needs of disabled people are rarely considered as much as everyone else’s. This is where you can help as a developer. If you ensure your app is accessible, not only will you be contributing to making the world a much more fair place for people with accessibility needs, your app will also be exposed to this entirely new audience of people who you may have not considered before.
To that end, here’s a look at what disability and accessibility really mean for a business and for users, and we’ll also go into some potential design features you could make use of to increase an apps accessibility for a wider range of people.
Does an app really need to be accessible?
It’s important when designing any kind of product, applications in particular, that you aren’t just relying on your target audience consuming your creation without question. You have to consider that each individual user has their own unique set of needs, and some of these need to be addressed before they have even downloaded your app. Conditions that come to mind could be sight loss and or hearing loss – but there are really many more that aren’t even technically considered to be disabilities – think of conditions such as dyslexia, vertigo, and even just having to wear glasses. These things can each have a huge effect on how your apps are interacted with.
It stands to reason that you can’t really assume that there will be a ‘normal’ audience for your apps, because really, no one is truly quantifiably ‘normal’. The best thing to do is to try to receive feedback from all kinds of individuals. This feedback can range from simple preferences to crucial requirements – prepare to be surprised by the results!
Is accessibility only important for the disabled?
Disability is not a simple thing, and just because someone doesn’t need a wheelchair or a service dog doesn’t mean they aren’t contending with some kind of impairment. In fact, it’s common for people with disabilities to actually define disability more with references to the struggles they face that have been put in place by society, as opposed to just their physical difficulties. Think of it this way, if pavements were made a bit wider as standard, and more buildings made use of elevators, people with wheelchairs would have far less difficulty getting around.
Are there any rules for accessibility in apps?
It is critical for an app designer who is interested in creating an app that is widely accessible to consider implementing a few of these features if they can. They’re all very simple – if not just plain common sense:
- Make sure to optimise your app for both desktop and mobile – it’s common for people to rely on tablets and phones as well as desktop PCs
- Try not to rely on only colour to signify differences in features or effects – colourblind users may have difficulty picking up on said differences
- If you use sounds, make sure they happen with a rumble or visual effect – this helps the hard of hearing not miss the cue
- Don’t rely on your users having to use precise gestures to navigate your app – this can cause difficulties for people with conditions such as dyspraxia, motor limitations, and even just lost fingers
- Ensure that the placement of buttons remains consistent on each page of your app, if it has them – this may seem obvious, but really makes a difference for anyone who relies on the relative placement of buttons on pages
- Make sure your fonts are readable, keeping them clear and simple – it can be hard for people with visual impairments or dyslexia to read fancy fonts
- Don’t rely on your users to have to remember large amounts of information from screen to screen – this can be a hindrance to anyone who suffers from memory loss, or learning difficulties
- Ensure all your text is a readable size – most people feel comfortable with a font of around 14pt
- Try to keep all the written content is written in simple english free of technical jargon, and in short sentences, to keep it easy to read – it’s actually common for people to have a lower level of literacy, and these users can struggle with large portions of text, some might not be able to read it at all
Implementing any one of these features shouldn’t be an issue at all for most app developers, and the payoff can be huge – so many people are given access to your app who might not have been able to use it before. If you found this to be simple and are interested in making your app even more accessible, here are some more technically advanced features you could have a go at utilising:
- Give your users a choice of font sizes so it can be tailored to anyone’s needs
- Implement a white on black (dark mode) – this provides more contrast which can be good for anyone with visual impairments, and also, the dark background is easier on anyone who suffers from migraines or even just is adverse to bright screens
- Use Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) – this is useful for those who utilise screen readers
- Consider using alt text descriptions on your photos and videos – this gives people who use text to speech software a simple, accurate description of said photo or video
- Allow the use of keyboard only controls for your app
- Make sure users have access to transcriptions of any audio or video content on your app
Implementing these accessibility features is not only super helpful to your users who have additional needs or disabilities, you’re also letting all your other users know that your company is disability friendly and inclusive. Not only does this help your image as a brand, but also helps let other potential disabled users know you’re being considerate of whatever needs they may have.
At the end of the day, customers like to feel appreciated and valued, and by making your app more accessible, it can make a world of difference for an often overlooked and disregarded group of people.