The development timeline for a simple mobile application can span hundreds of hours of back-end and front-end development. For complex apps, the timeline can easily stretch over a thousand hours, and even a “small" roadblock can strain the project’s budget.
Needless to say, the first weeks of the planning phase are critical. Your team will need to identify and address any issues that could extend the development timeline — but by prioritizing accessibility, you can avoid many of the roadblocks that could drain your resources.
Why is mobile app accessibility important?
The term mobile accessibility refers to established practices that improve app functionality for all users, including those with disabilities. When your app is accessible, you’ll reach a much wider audience (potentially including the 1 billion people worldwide who live with at least one disability).
Mobile accessibility is not optional. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits businesses from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, and a number of web accessibility lawsuits — including the infamous Robles v. Domino's Pizza LLC case — have established that mobile apps fall under the ADA. Other non-discrimination laws such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) may also apply to mobile applications.
Setting aside the legal requirements, mobile accessibility offers extraordinary benefits for businesses of all sizes:
An accessible app sends a powerful message that you’re thinking about the experiences of all users.
People are more likely to use and recommend apps that don’t limit features to users with certain abilities.
Accessibility supports customer retention and can improve your return on investment from marketing efforts.
Accessibility can benefit search engine optimization (SEO), growing your audience organically over time.
Better accessibility means cleaner code and fewer bugs (and fewer remediation tickets after your app launches).
To realize those benefits, you need to incorporate the best practices of inclusive design into your app development plan. Many development teams think of accessibility as a secondary consideration — a checkbox that can be completed just before the app is published.
That’s not the case. Remediating accessibility issues after-the-fact can be much more expensive than planning for inclusive design. And since inclusive design prioritizes clean, efficient code and markup, you can eliminate many future roadblocks by thinking about accessibility from day one.
Prioritizing mobile accessibility helps to ensure a smooth app rollout
Every member of your team should understand the importance of accessibility. Otherwise, you can fall into a common development trap: Your app is optimized for a specific type of user that only makes up a small portion of your user base.
For example, many people with vision disabilities use text-to-speech (TTS) when using apps. Some sighted users may also prefer TTS — and if your app isn’t optimized for those users, you’ll miss an opportunity.
Some of your users may have broken touchscreens, or they may keep their device’s volume muted. Some people might open your app in crowded environments where they can’t hear audio, or they might use high-contrast settings to avoid eyestrain.
Accessibility benefits all of these users by ensuring a more consistent experience, regardless of how people use your app. That can limit technical issues when your app goes live — and streamline the testing phase, keeping your timeline on track.
Start building a strategy for mobile app accessibility
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an international accessibility standard that enables developers to test their content during (and after) development. Following WCAG can help you remove that barriers that affect your users:
Relying on images to convey information, which may affect users with vision disabilities.
Improper color contrast, which may affect people with low vision and color vision deficiencies (CVD).
Small buttons or other interactive fields that may not be usable for people with physical disabilities.
A lack of keyboard support, which impacts people who use traditional keyboards to control mobile apps.
A lack of support for TTS tools, screen readers, and other assistive technologies (AT).
Depending on your app’s features, mobile accessibility may be more complicated than website accessibility. We strongly recommend working with an accessibility partner — subject matter experts (SME) can help you build a testing strategy and help your team adopt sustainable, self-sufficient practices for long-term compliance.
For more guidance, send us a message to connect with an expert or read more about the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s iOS and Android app accessibility testing services.