5 Ways to Make Your App More Accessible

Users spend a large portion of their days in apps. However, there is not yet as much focus on app accessibility as web accessibility. It’s time to change that!

iPhone on table with app running.

This is a guest post by Bryn Gelbart from Fueled, who builds apps with accessibility in mind.

Why care about app accessibility?

One billion people, or about 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. Combine that with the fact that smartphone and app usage is booming in all parts of the world, across all ages and abilities. This means that in order to truly maximize the impact, reach and profit of your mobile app you need to make sure it is easy to use for people of all ability sets. It must be accessible.

An app can do this by addressing the core accessibility checklist that the Web Accessibility Initiative puts forward. But if you don’t have time to read through the long checklist, here are five practical ways to improve your app’s accessibility.

1. Design for colorblindness

Approximately 8% of  men and 0.5% of women are color blind according to visiontechnology.co. This comes close to 300 million people worldwide, a majority of those being caucasian men. That can be a bigger issue than you think considering the demographics of the tech industry.

A core accessibility principle is to not rely solely on color to convey meaning. Don’t just make error messages red. Also add an error icon to make it clear to everyone.

It is imperative to use easily distinguishable colors. Avoid mixing green and red, as that is the color combination that most people with color blindness can’t tell apart.

You must make your backgrounds pop from your foregrounds, so no crucial information is lost on the color blind user. For example measure contrasts and make sure they comply with the color contrast threshold in WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Also, don’t have too similar hues of the same color, as this is likely to be seen as the same by many colorblind users.

The screenshot from Candy Crush Saga below uses distinct shapes and varied shades to cater to colorblind users:

Color and greyscale screenshots from Candy Crush compared. Clear texts and fruits even in greyscale.

2. Provide captions and alternative text

Captions for video are essential for users with hearing impairments. Providing this alternative also benefits all users, as closed captioning can be useful in many situations, including commutes and while using your device in loud environments.

Additionally, people who rely on text-to-speech voice technology are a demographic to consider when talking about accessibility. All photos and icons should have alternative text that can help all users get the full experience.

To add this alternative description to images and icons in apps, refer to these guides provided by Google and Apple:

Android Accessibility
iOS Accessibility

In short, for Android use android:contentDescription and for iOS use the label attribute.

Another good guideline is to complement icons with text. That way, it’s more clear to everyone what the icon means. In the Remente app, each icon for feeling is complemented with a number from 1 to 5. Also, the thumbs up and thumbs down icons have a label “Negative” and “Positive”.

Remente app. Smileys that show emotions with complement text 1-5 under each face.

3. Readable and distinguishable interface

Making sure displays on your app are easy to see goes beyond proofing for colorblindness. Giving your text a strong brightness-contrast and using larger font sizes is a good place to start.

It is also important to differentiate clickable content. Hyperlinks and buttons that take the user to other screens should be both colored differently and highlighted with non-color characteristics, like a border on the button, a link underline or a link icon.

Also, keep formatting consistent. Users with cognitive limitations may become confused if components are formatted differently on different pages.

4. Be aware of seizure inducing elements

According to stats from Healthline, about one in every 26 people will experience recurring seizures in their lifetime.  The causes range from epilepsy to other less common conditions that can come into effect without prior warning or experience.

Avoid putting in features that frequently flashes on the screen or makes use of the camera flash on devices. Alternating colors or patterns are a bad call as well. If these are features that you must include, provide a warning and an option to disable them.

5. Multiple language settings

While it does not fall into the same category as these other tips, it is important to recognize when your concept may be applicable to a non-English speaking audience. Translating all text is an easy way to expand your accessibility. On mobile these options will often be automatically changed based on user settings.

An additional feature for multilingual users could be a slick drop down menu built into the interface that can give language options from within the app.

Thanks Fueled

It’s nice to see more and more companies spreading accessibility awareness! Thanks Fueled for writing this post. And no, we didn’t get paid to feature this. We just like working together with people who work with accessibility in mind!

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