Developing Apps With Accessibility In Mind

Published June 13, 2023

According to the World Health Organization, there are almost 1.3 billion people in the world who live with some form of physical or cognitive impairment—that's 16% of the world's population! Making apps accessible means that these people can enjoy the same experiences as everyone else. But it's not just about people with special needs.  

Accessibility benefits everyone. For example, designing apps with larger text and buttons can make them easier for everyone, regardless of age or visual ability. Making sure apps can be navigated using only a keyboard can benefit users with physical disabilities and anyone who prefers a keyboard rather than a mouse. 

Simply put, making apps accessible ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of technology. If you’re a website or app developer, it's crucial to consider accessibility as a fundamental aspect of your development process. It will help you reach a larger audience and improve the user experience for all users, not just those with disabilities. 

It's important to keep accessibility in mind when designing for accessibility, whether you're creating an app for personal or business use.

Choose colors wisely

When designing an app, it's essential to pick colors that are easy to see and distinguish from each other. This helps people with color blindness or low vision. For instance, avoid using light-colored text on a light background, like yellow text on a white background, as it would be difficult to read. Instead, open the door for combinations like black text on a white background or white text on a dark background, providing better contrast and readability.

Also, be mindful of color combinations that can be problematic for people with color blindness, like red and green or blue and yellow. Consider using color-blind-friendly palettes or provide options for users to customize the app's color scheme according to their needs.

Use clear and simple layouts

Make your app's layout simple and organized so users can easily find what they want. This means arranging buttons, menus, and other elements logically and consistently. It’s often recommended to place essential buttons like "Home" or "Back" in the top-left corner, where users typically expect to find them. Group related functions together, like putting all the editing tools in one menu or section, so users can easily locate the desired features.

Overloading the screen with too many items or visuals can be overwhelming and confusing, especially for people with cognitive impairments or attention disorders. Instead, use white space and divide content into separate, easy-to-understand sections.

Offer text alternatives for images

Alternative text, or "alt text," is an important feature for making your app accessible to users with difficulty seeing images or relying on screen readers to navigate. It's a brief description of the image that helps convey its purpose or content.

So, let's say your app has an image of a cute puppy. Instead of just having the image, you should add alt text that says something like "A happy brown puppy playing in the grass." This description will be read aloud by screen readers, helping users with visual impairments understand the image's content.

Another example is an infographic that displays various statistics. Alt text could include "Infographic showing the percentage of smartphone users by age group." This way, people using screen readers can still grasp the key information in the image. Providing meaningful alt text for each image in your app ensures that users with visual impairments can easily understand your content.

Make text size adjustable

Offering an option to adjust the text size in your app helps users with a compromised vision to read the content more comfortably. You could include a settings menu where users can choose from different text sizes, such as small, medium, large, or extra-large. This way, people can select a larger text size that's easier to read. 

Enable keyboard navigation

Your app should be designed to support keyboard navigation or other input devices, as some people with motor impairments may find it difficult to use a touchscreen or a mouse.  If you’re creating a music app, for example, you could allow users to navigate through the app using the Tab key. They could move between elements like the search bar, song list, and playlist area and use the Enter key to select songs or create playlists. 

Suppose you are developing an online shopping app. In that case, you can enable keyboard navigation to assist users with physical impairments in browsing through products, adding items to their cart, and checking out. By using the Tab key to move between product images, descriptions, and buttons (like "Add to Cart" or "Checkout"), and the Enter key to select options, people can comfortably use the app without relying on touch or mouse input.

Provide audio and visual feedback

Providing feedback in your app helps users know that their actions have been recognized, and it's especially important for people who have difficulty seeing or hearing. Here’s how you can do it:

  • When a user taps a button, change its color or add a subtle animation to indicate that it has been pressed. 
  • Use sounds to signal that an action has been completed. 
  • If your app allows users to set a timer, make the device vibrate when the time is up, alerting the user without relying on sound.
  • When users complete a task, such as submitting a form or making a purchase, provide a visual cue like a checkmark or a "Success" message. 
  • For users with visual impairments, consider incorporating voice feedback. For example, when they select an option in a menu, have a voice read out the selected option to confirm their choice.

The Impact of Accessible Apps

As we said before, an app designed to be accessible benefits everyone, not just people with impairments. It's like a well-designed building with ramps, elevators, and wide doorways—these features help people with wheelchairs. Still, they also make it easier for parents with strollers, delivery workers with carts, and anyone who appreciates a smooth path.

When developers focus on accessibility, they will likely discover design improvements that help all users. Take adding alternative text to images, for example, it helps visually impaired users, but it also improves the app's search engine ranking, making it easier to find online. In other words, developing accessible apps is a win-win situation for app developers and users. 

 

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