There are over 7 million apps available across the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, and new ones are added every day. People spend 88% of their time on their phone using apps. More and more businesses are creating mobile apps, and an important thing to consider when doing so is accessibility for people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing.
Step one: determine needs
There are several ways to ensure accessibility for those with hearing loss. Though implementing all of them may seem ideal, some may not be relevant to your business and needs.
Make a list of all the essential functions of your app. Is it an e-commerce app? Is a portion of your app dedicated to customer service? Focusing on the use cases can help determine what accessibility features will work best for you and your customers.
Step two: research
Once you have narrowed your scope, research the best way to implement accessibility into your app. Look for guides to get direction on where to start.
There is also a lot of value in learning from the lived experiences of people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. Learning from their experiences can help identify what functionality your app needs and how to achieve that.
Research depends heavily on the type of app you are building, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore how other companies have developed their apps to be accessible. Noting the techniques and options others have utilized can help you refine your approach and perfect what you can offer.
Step three: testing
There are several aspects to app testing, and they don't just apply to the initial development process. They reoccur throughout the lifetime of your app. And each type of testing provides different but critical feedback for your app's overall function and accessibility.
- User testing – Also known as usability testing, this practice tests how your users interact with your product. The first round of user testing should ideally take place before any final design decisions have been made and should be repeated throughout the design and development process. It should also be repeated throughout the lifespan of your app, especially when design changes are under consideration. You must include people who have hearing loss during this process and use their feedback to make improvements to the accessibility of your app.
- Unit testing and functional testing – These tests are integral to the development process. Unit tests verify the smallest testable components of an app, helping track down bugs early on. Functional testing helps verify that users can perform the tasks the app aims to facilitate.
- Beta testing – After developers have thoroughly tested the app, it's time for beta testing, often considered the time when you encourage users to try to break your app. You can use open beta testing, allowing anyone can sign up for the beta test, or closed, in which a user must apply and be approved to test. Both options have pros and cons, so determine which option works best for your app.
- Accessibility audit – An accessibility audit evaluates how well your app complies with accessibility standards. Audits are necessary for verifying compliance with requirements and maintaining long-term accessibility. Even if your app performs well on an initial audit, technology and requirements change over time, so it's crucial to perform audits regularly.
Standard accessibility features
Though the accessibility features you decide on will be specific to your industry and the purpose of your app, there are some standard features you can start with to make the development easier. These are baseline, industry-standard requirements for digital accessibility.
- Closed captioning – Fifty percent of Americans use captions every day. If your app has video content, you must provide captions.
- Audio transcription – For non-video audio content, you must provide a transcript. This detailed representation of speech and other essential sounds should provide people with hearing loss as similar an experience to listening to the audio as possible.
- User-friendly controls – The devices we use to access apps often fit into the palm, so the placement of controls used to turn on captions and other accessibility features must be easy for a user to get to without missing any essential information.
Apps are wildly popular. And as your user base grows, so does the likelihood that people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing will be among your users. Researching, planning, and integrating accessible features to make your app user-friendly for users with hearing disabilities is critical. Following these steps will facilitate a smoother development process and continued accessibility to all your customers.