Mobile App Accessibility

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It is predicted that by the end of 2012 there will be more mobile phones and smartphones than people in the world. Along with this trend is a trend for mobile platforms to be the preferred gateway to the Internet. A mobile smartphone, or a tablet, plus a wireless Internet interface has become the easiest and most cost effective way of getting online. It is being chosen by the young (no need for a fixed line), citizens of the emerging countries (where there are often no fixed lines) and people in the UK who have not been online yet (including many with disabilities).

To support the disabled users, 2012 is going to have to be the year when mobile app developers understand the need for accessibility and implement accessible solutions.

In 2011 Apple showed the way to an accessible platform with VoiceOver (text to speech), Siri (intelligent voice recognition), Assistive Touch (for people with limited hand control who cannot use the complex gesture support), along with a variety of other accessibility features. Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which is just coming on to the market, has a built in Screen Reader. Microsoft Windows 8, expected later this year, has been previewed with a whole set of accessibility features. So this year all the major platforms will have accessibility built in. More needs to be done on all these platforms, especially to support those who have little or no use of their hands.

Looking at existing apps, it is clear that accessibility is achievable but it is also unfortunately easy to develop apps that are totally inaccessible. As has been the case with accessibility on the web, the problem is not with the technology but with the lack of understanding, by the procurers and developers, of the issues and needs for accessible apps. For example, the UK Met Office created a weather app, which was a disaster when used with VoiceOver, however, a new version has recently been published and it is obvious that the need for accessibility had been recognised and, in the process, the usability for all users has been improved.

Peter Abrahams, Bloor’s Accessibility Practice Leader, is a prominent voice in the accessibility community and has stated that his vision for 2012, along with many other members of the accessibility community, is to:

  • Ensure that procurers and developers recognise the requirement and make accessibility the norm whilst the apps market is still young.
  • Keep pressure on the platform providers to ensure that accessibility features are provided to support all forms and levels of disabilities.