A New Jersey plaintiff accused Niantic Inc., the developer of the popular Pokémon Go mobile game, of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Carlos Herrera, who has a vision disability, filed two lawsuits detailing alleged barriers on Niantic’s website — and within the Pokémon Go app. According to the Department of Justice, Title III of the ADA applies to websites and mobile applications.
The court filing was not immediately available for our review. However, New Jersey Advance Media reports that the lawsuits reference specific barriers that could impact people with vision disabilities:
Niantic’s website allegedly fails to properly label page titles.
The site also contains broken links, incomplete subheadings, and missing alternative text for graphical content (such as images).
The Pokémon Go app is not fully compatible with screen reading software on Apple iOS and Android smartphones.
Herrera is seeking an injunction to change Niantic’s policies, practices, and procedures. He is represented by attorney Daniel Zemel of Zemel Law, LLC.
Screen reader support is essential for accessibility
Many people with vision disabilities use screen readers, which output text as audio or braille. While screen readers are powerful assistive tools, they depend on accurate content and markup — if creators fail to think about users with disabilities, screen readers may not work predictably.
Notably, the plaintiffs accuse Niantic of failing to provide screen reader support on both its website and within Pokémon Go.
While accessibility isn’t always easy, developers have resources. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is widely considered the international standard for accessibility, contains pass-or-fail statements called success criteria that apply to a broad scope of digital content.
Following WCAG can prevent many barriers that affect screen reader users:
WCAG requires accurate title tags, which may help screen reader users navigate between several web pages without losing their place.
WCAG requires accurate subheadings with proper markup, which enables screen readers to “scan through" content for key information.
WCAG requires accurate alternative text for non-text content. This helps people understand the purpose of images, graphs, and other graphics without relying on visual perception.
WCAG requires keyboard accessibility. Most screen reader users navigate with their keyboards, and when websites are optimized for keyboard users, they work better with all assistive technologies (AT).
WCAG is frequently cited in ADA lawsuits, and while it’s typically applied to websites, many success criteria also apply to mobile apps.
To create accessible experiences, mobile apps need to think about users with disabilities from day one
When mobile applications fail to prioritize accessibility from the first stages of development, barriers are practically inevitable. In 2016, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) published several articles noting accessibility issues in Pokémon Go, including the lack of screen reader support.
“Pokemon GO uses the Unity engine, a very popular cross-platform engine for developing video games,” the AFB wrote in a blog post.
“Unfortunately, Unity does not appear to natively support Apple's VoiceOver protocols for communicating element information. To add accessibility to Pokemon Go, Niantic, the company that created the Unity platform, would apparently need to add VoiceOver compatibility from scratch.”
Lee Huffman, editor for the AFB’s AccessWorld blog, noted that the foundation “would be happy to contract" with Niantic to make the game more accessible.
"They probably never even thought of it as a group, but there are over 20 million Americans who have problems reading standard print, even with the best corrective glasses or contacts," Huffman said.
For video game developers, supporting digital accessibility makes sense
Following the best practices of inclusive design, creators can make digital products that work for more people — including those that don’t live with disabilities.
Pokémon Go, for example, requires users to read their screens in direct sunlight, which may be difficult in many situations. By supporting screen-reading software, the app could potentially find new ways to accommodate its enormous audience.
Embracing accessibility can help to reduce legal risks, improve user retention rates, and enhance marketing efforts. WCAG provides a path forward — and developers who consistently prioritize users with disabilities can present all users with a better experience.
To learn more, read about our iOS and Android app accessibility testing services or see how your website stacks up with WCAG with a free, confidential web accessibility analysis.