Mobile app accessibility

Posted by Lucy Collins on Jun 11, 2021 2:46:48 PM
Lucy Collins


We are approaching yet another UK government deadline for accessibility: mobile app compliance.

As detailed on the website:

“The accessibility regulations apply in the same way as websites for new, existing or outsourced public sector mobile apps. The deadline for meeting them is 23 June 2021. The apps must be accessible and publish an accessibility statement by this date.”

This means in less than 2 weeks all apps used by public sector organisations, either those built in-house or sourced from third parties need to comply with the WCAG 2.1 guidelines to Level A and AA. Just like websites already should do.

How to assess accessibility on mobile apps?

The process for auditing mobile apps is very similar to that used on websites. Checks should be conducted manually against the WCAG 2.1 guidelines on a representative sample of app screens to determine how accessible or otherwise the app is.

In many ways, assessing the accessibility of apps is an easier task than on websites.

Unlike many computers, smartphones have some great, native accessibility features so you need no extra third party tools, like screen readers or screen magnifiers, to get started.

On iPhones you have VoiceOver screen reader, Apple Zoom and built-in voice recognition. The same is true on Android devices, although the screen reader is called TalkBack.

Because of these different native tools, it is important to test on at least one iOS and one Android device when assessing mobile apps.

It is also worth considering testing on different versions of these devices and with different screen sizes as older, smaller models that are still in circulation may have different issues than their modern successors.

Other accessibility tools you may want to include in your tests are Bluetooth keyboards and switches, devices that send a keystroke signal to your smartphone. Watch this handy video from Google Developers to learn more about how switches work. These are devices used by anyone with limited dexterity or motor control who may find the small touch gestures required to operate a smartphone difficult.

What to check in your mobile accessibility review

Just like on websites, accessibility checks need to be carried out on a range of functionality and page elements. Some of key areas to check include:

  • Are buttons and links labelled correctly? Use the built in screen reader to listen to all the content on the page. Do the labels you hear match with what you can see, are those labels descriptive and do they make sense without the context of the surrounding text?
  • Is the focus order logical? When using a smartphone screen reader, you can swipe backwards and forwards to move through the page one element at a time. Make sure the focus moves in a logical order and does not jump around. It is also worth checking the focus order using your Bluetooth keyboard or switch to ensure the order is logical for sighted users as well.
  • Does the app work at high zoom? Try using the native zoom functionality and check that no content is obscured or overlaps when the app is viewed at high levels of magnification.
  • Are image alt tags useful? When using your screen reader, listen out for how images are described. Is that description useful or does it just add unnecessarily clutter to the page?
  • Is colour contrast sufficient? A slightly more laborious task for mobile apps (unless you have access to the apps colour palette or the app on a simulator) but still an important check to carry out. First establish what colours are used in the app (a colour picker can help you do this) then plug them into a colour contrast checker (like this one from WebAIM) and see how well the app fares.

Improving the accessibility of mobile apps is just one further step towards making the online world a more inclusive environment. The most recent WebAIM screen reader survey found users were in fact slightly more likely to use a mobile app than a website for common tasks, such as grocery shopping or online banking, highlighting the importance of making these apps as easy to use and accessible as possible.

Read more:

Topics: Accessibility

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