Developing Accessible Apps
August 28, 2018

Modern technology doesn’t automatically make life easier for everyone. Computer software and apps can present unique challenges to people living with disabilities.

Vision impairment, hearing difficulties, mobility impairment, or cognitive disabilities all make navigating today’s digital apps difficult, or impossible.

As a technological innovator, you shouldn’t be willing to leave anyone in the dust. The nature of technology is not to power ahead for those who can use it and forget those who can’t, but to adapt and invent ways to allow all people to benefit from digital advancements.

The job of a good UI/UX developer is to create a product that makes the user’s experience easier – that goes for all types of users. A touch of clear design can go a long way.

Is It Worthwhile to Design for Accessibility?

The short answer is, if you don’t design for accessibility, you’re stunting your app’s ability to grow. The World Bank estimates that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that number is closer to 20% in the US. That’s a huge segment of the market that could benefit from improved accessibility.

The government is increasingly recognizing this, and encouraging action to accommodate it. Congress has introduced legislation in a range of areas aimed at improving accessibility to products and services for people living with disabilities, and some of that includes computer software and apps. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and its 2008 amendments specifies that public programs and services — including information technology — have to be accessible to people living with disabilities, and provide “effective communication” of their content and information.

As the population ages, accessibility will only become more important. If you stay ahead of the curve and build this into your app from the start, you’ll have a more ethical product with more lasting power.

Ways to Improve Your App’s Accessibility

Improving accessibility doesn’t have to be hard. There are plenty of guides out there like these ones by Android and Salesforce that can help you get a full understanding of what your app design must include to be successful.

For visual impairments, increased size or contrast text can go a long way in making content easier to read. If you’re targeting an older demographic especially, making the text in your app easy to read should be a goal. Using bolding or italics, instead of just color, to highlight important phrases ensures someone with a vision impairment doesn’t miss important content. Adding captions to audio or video allows people with hearing impairments to access and understand all content.

More complex solutions can include formatting web and app content so that programs like Android’s Text-to-Speech can easily read the content aloud to users.

Truly stellar accessibility will take more detailed design, such as ensuring your online forms are properly identified so that keyboard-only and voice-only computer users can still use them. Or, it can mean relocating menu items to places where they can be easily found for these users. If you have to hover the mouse over an item to see the actionable items, visual-only users might not even realize it’s there. This is where an experienced app developer can be a great resource to help you address potential user roadblocks you hadn’t even considered.

Testing your product often and thoroughly can help identify where your accessibility issues lie, and allow your development team to innovate strong solutions.

The Payoff

When you make your product more accessible, it will reach more people. You can start to access some of the 20% of the American population living with a disability, who might not otherwise interact with your app. As more technologies are developed for people living with disabilities to navigate computers and apps, there will be more opportunities to develop strong, accessible app design. The field is only growing.

When you design software to be more accessible, it’s useful for other purposes as well. Take, for example, captioning video content for people with hearing difficulties has became useful even for people without hearing impairments. Thanks to captioning, video can be watched by people who need to watch sound-free, or for those who don’t understand the video’s native language very well.

Similarly, voice control features can be extremely useful for someone with mobility issues, but have the added side effect of assisting someone who’s got his hands full trying to cook dinner.

Ultimately, constraint breeds creativity. When you’re required to work within stricter guidelines, you’re forced to adapt your design to fit – and often, you end up with something better than you had originally planned. At Barefoot Solutions, we embrace the creative challenges of accessible design; each challenge is a new opportunity to make your app even better for your users.

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