Mobile apps must be accessible, and practically, developers have strong reasons to prioritize inclusive design. When an app works well with assistive technologies, it’s more robust — and more likely to meet the needs of all users.
Ideally, your team will start thinking about accessibility from the first stages of development. In other articles, we’ve discussed how mobile accessibility is difficult to retrofit, particularly for native apps.
But in order to prioritize accessibility, you’ll need to test your product regularly. Google’s Accessibility Scanner is a useful tool for finding certain accessibility barriers, though like all automated tests, it has certain limitations.
Here’s how to get started with Accessibility Scanner (along with a few tips for building an accessible mindset when designing your app).
Accessibility Scanner tests for common barriers that impact users with disabilities
After downloading Accessibility Scanner, you can either take a snapshot of your app or record a workflow or task. First, you’ll need to enable the service:
- Open Settings, then navigate to Accessibility.
- Select Installed services.
- Select Accessibility Scanner and toggle it on.
When you re-open Accessibility Scanner, it will request permissions. After granting those permissions, you can open your app and press the Record button to track a workflow. The Snapshot button generates accessibility suggestions for a single screen.
Understand the Limitations of Accessibility Scanner
The Accessibility Scanner analyzes your app for a limited number of barriers including:
- Content labels, which are essential for screen reader accessibility.
- Touch target size, which may be helpful for people who use alternative input methods and users with mobility impairments.
- Clickable items, which must have appropriate markup and ordering.
- Text and image contrast, which impact users with low vision and color vision deficiencies (also called color blindness).
Accessibility Scanner is an excellent tool for finding items with missing labels, duplicate item descriptions, low-contrast text, and uninformative link text. Following the Scanner’s suggestions may also improve conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the consensus standards for digital accessibility.
However, no automated tool can provide perfect accessibility (at least, not yet). For example, Accessibility Scanner can tell you whether a label exists, but not whether that label is practically useful for real-life users.
You’ll still need to manually review images to make sure that they have accurate alternative text, and you’ll need to ensure that item labels provide accurate information about their purpose.
Treat Accessibility Scanner as an introduction to accessible app design — not as a magic bullet.
Start thinking about accessibility on the first day of development
Accessibility isn’t something that you can put off until the end of a project. If you build a complex app with dozens of features, changing one aspect of your workflow might require a complete overhaul of your product — and even when you’ve made the changes, the app may not work perfectly with assistive technologies.
Build accessibility audits into your process. Make sure that every member of your team understands the importance of inclusive design. Start asking questions before making key decisions about your app:
- Will this feature work well on screens of different sizes?
- Are gestures too complex for users with limited mobility?
- Can screen reader users understand all of the information provided visually?
- Is the app’s layout consistent throughout workflows and processes?
- If the app has audio, is there an alternative available for people with hearing disabilities (and users who turn off the sound)?
Every member of your team has a role to play. Designers need to pay attention to color contrast and avoid using color to convey information. Developers need to write accurate item labels and maintain a consistent accessibility hierarchy. Content writers must create clear, accurate instructions that guide users through each process.
And while Accessibility Scanner is a valuable tool, it can’t replace manual audits and reviews. By working with an accessibility partner, you can make better decisions throughout development — which often means cleaner code and lower long-term development costs.
For help with mobile accessibility, send us a message to connect with a subject matter expert. To learn more about the basics of mobile app accessibility, download our free checklist: The Definitive Mobile App Accessibility Checklist.