4 Myths About Mobile App Accessibility

March 25, 2022

Many development teams underestimate the number of web users with disabilities. In the United States, 1 in 4 adults lives with a disability of some kind; worldwide, about 1 billion people have disabilities, and that doesn’t include situational disabilities (such as operating an app on a phone with a broken screen) that affect nearly every user at some point.

In other words, if your app doesn’t have any users with disabilities, you’ve got a problem. You may also have a legal responsibility to make changes: In the landmark case Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the plaintiff, who was blind, sued Domino’s for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act for accessibility barriers on their website and mobile app. 

Regardless of your app’s target audience, you can safely assume that some users will have disabilities. Organizations have a legal and ethical responsibility to accommodate these users — and ignoring that responsibility misses an opportunity to reach a broad audience. 

Here are a few other myths about mobile accessibility to keep in mind when developing your app. For more guidance, download our free Definitive Mobile Accessibility Checklist.

1. “Mobile accessibility can be implemented at the end of development.”

Developers often think of accessibility as a final step that can be carried out prior to publishing. While accessibility can be implemented late, remediation may be expensive at that stage. 

Common accessibility issues may require rewriting large amounts of code. For example, if your app doesn’t have robust keyboard support, adding the feature at the end of development can be a time-consuming task.

Developers should consider alternative input modalities (such as screen readers, eye-tracking systems, and keyboard controls) from the beginning of the project. Likewise, designers will need to think about color contrast ratios and other accessibility concerns when making decisions.

The process is easier — and much less expensive — if accessibility audits are performed regularly during development. In the long term, prioritizing users with disabilities can reduce development costs and open up more of the benefits of accessible design.

Related: Why Accessibility Should Be A Priority (And How to Start Prioritizing)

2. “Making my app accessible will take too long and cost too much money.”

It’s true that accessibility requires an investment, but it offers an excellent return on that investment. Accessible mobile apps typically have cleaner code, which makes updates easier to implement and roll out. 

And since the best practices of accessibility overlap with the best practices of design, accessible mobile apps can retain more users and keep them engaged. Following the principles of accessibility will address dozens of user experience issues that affect real people, regardless of their abilities — everything from orientation-related display issues to poorly implemented forms. 

Related: Digital Accessibility Is an Investment, Not a Cost

3. “Prioritizing accessibility will make my app ugly.”

Accessible design doesn’t mean using plain white backgrounds and an oversimplified interface. When accessibility remains a priority throughout the product development cycle, the finished product can be visually impressive. 

Most accessibility features aren’t immediately noticeable for users without disabilities. For example, text alternatives for images won’t be displayed for most users, but for people who use assistive technologies, text alternatives serve a vital purpose. 

And while accessibility has established rules, the goal isn’t to make your content less aesthetically interesting. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the consensus standard for digital accessibility. While WCAG does have requirements for color contrast ratios and some other visual elements, those requirements aren’t overly restrictive, and they help to make apps usable for a wider variety of users.

Put simply, WCAG doesn’t restrict your content. The guidelines empower developers to make strong decisions that appeal to all users, regardless of their abilities. 

Related: Use of Color for Accessibility Explained

4. “I can check whether my mobile app is accessible with automated tools.”

Automated testing can find some accessibility barriers, but tools that rely on artificial intelligence frequently report false positives and false negatives. Moreover, these resources can only provide limited guidance for remediation. For instance, while an automated test might tell you that your app has missing alt text, it can’t determine whether your alt text is clear, concise, and understandable. 

That’s true for both web content and mobile app content, but mobile app testing tools are especially limited. Tools need to be appropriate for your development platform, and developers need to understand the core concepts of accessibility when reviewing the output. 

The best practice is to use a combination of automated and manual testing. Ideally, human testers will be experienced screen reader users who understand how disabilities affect mobile app behavior. 

Related: Should You Test Mobile Apps for Accessibility? Here's What the Stats Say

Learn about the basics of mobile accessibility

Developers should design mobile content for all users, but unfortunately, the industry has a long way to go. Common accessibility barriers like missing image alt text, unlabeled forms, and misused WAI-ARIA markup can render an app unusable for a large portion of your audience. 

To prevent these issues from affecting real users, start thinking about accessibility as early as possible. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers mobile accessibility audits using WCAG 2.1 Level A/AA guidelines, and our experts can provide prioritized recommendations to help your brand earn — and maintain — WCAG conformance. Learn more about our iOS and Android app testing process here.

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