Mobile apps are for everyone – and they’re not about the digital world, but the real world around us. In 2017, it’s estimated that around 1 billion people around the world have some form of disability, while 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide.
As societies age, accessibility continues to be an important part of the global conversation about digital inclusiveness. Yet it’s in the everyday work of designers and developers where the true magic happens.
Drawing insights from a new report on Mobile Apps Accessibility, here’s how designers can keep all users in mind when designing mobile apps.
You can’t guess what it’s like to be blind
As designers, we know we shouldn’t make assumptions, guess or think of ourselves as potential users. This is precisely why we need to convince our clients that user testing is vital. In the case of blind users, we have to be fully aware how different their perception of space is, what patterns they use, what’s important for them and how to help them understand the application. There’s no way other than organising workshops, user testing and consulting them directly to find out.
Keep it short
For blind people, every action takes more time. This means they pay more attention to even minor copywriting details if words are too long. As designers, we should remember to keep information architecture as compact and straightforward as possible the enable scanning through the app.
Don’t forget that users have to remember
Understanding the content of an application through sound only can be overwhelming. Blind users have to remember features and information gathered while they listen, or they have to listen again from the beginning.
The simpler and more intuitive the application is, the better. We need to do our best to bring out the core features and avoid information overload. Keeping it all simple and clear makes a big difference.
Stick to the patterns
The perception of a screen that’s just a sequence of words is different from a screen with a visual hierarchy. Sticking to patterns makes the information architecture more legible.
For example, we shouldn’t interfere with the default behaviour of VoiceOver, a popular screen reader. When a user goes deeper into the structure of an app, from one screen to another, the focus should be set to a “Back” or “Close” button. This way they know how to navigate through the app.
Guide blind users as you would guide a blind person in the real world
As in the real world, we have to predict what happens when a blind person is on their own. The good news is that in both Android and iOS, you can control the order in which users gets specific information. By grouping elements or forcing the focus of a screen reader on an error message, for example, we can make sure that the user is aware of some kind of “failure”.
Working on accessibility can enhance the overall user experience
While working on an accessible application, you may suddenly realise that user experience becomes clearer as your reduce and prioritise elements. That only proves that the general rules of information architecture are universal, regardless of the senses we use. Making some UI elements more visible for users suffering from partial visual impairments enhances the overall readability of the app.
Find more tips on designing accessible mobile apps in Polidea’s Accessibility in Mobile Apps Report, which draws on the collective effort of Polidea’s designers and developers.