Developing An App? This Is Why It Should Be Inclusive

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When you picture someone using an app, who do you consider? In all likelihood, the image in your head wasn’t of someone with a disability or impairment, but this is a huge proportion of the population, and therefore of phone users. Considering accessibility when it comes to developing an app isn’t just beneficial in terms of opening up to a new demographic - it’s necessary for an inclusive environment. 

Here, we’ll discuss the term ‘accessibility’ and discuss ideas surrounding disability, then go through some of the basics of making your app accessible to as many people as possible in terms of specific design choices. 

Accessibility In Your Application 

When you’re designing an app, you can’t just view your target market as a blank slate who’ll be consuming your product - the users will have a huge variety of needs, and many of them will need to be addressed before they can get into using your application. Beyond disabilities like limb loss and paralysis, many of these impairments aren’t considered ‘disabilities’ in the conventional sense; color blindness, dyslexia, and even hand size can all affect an individual’s ability to use an app. 

In this situation, you can’t assume what’s ‘normal’ and what isn’t - getting feedback from a wide range of real people can open your eyes to the wide range of needs people have, and maybe even give you a better perspective on app design more generally. 

Disability Isn’t Always Straightforward 

As you can probably tell, disability isn’t as simple and clear cut as many people assume it to be. Just because someone doesn’t have a wheelchair or some other kind of visible mobility device, or a disability that manifests in an easily identifiable way, doesn’t mean that they aren’t disabled. In fact, many theorisations of disability actually define it more through societal expectations and how our environments are set up than any physical difference - for instance, a paraplegic person struggles in society not because of their wheelchair, but because of the prevalence of stairs and narrow streets, and loud, busy locations aren’t equipped well to deal with a person with autism. 

It’s worth taking this into account when you design your app - do you want to contribute to this restrictive environment, or foster a space where disability isn’t going to come up as an issue? This view of disability can open your eyes to how even the most seemingly small obstacles can completely prevent a person from participating, and encourage you to design your app with a greater level of awareness. 

Keep These Basics In Mind 

When it comes to designing an app with accessibility in mind, there are a few basic tenets to bear in mind that often come up for a huge proportion of the population: 

● Don’t use colour alone to signal a feature or effect - this can make understanding an app difficult for individuals with color blindness 

● Don’t force a user to remember information between separate screens - users with learning difficulties or memory loss will find themselves stuck with no way to progress further 

● Keep all of your font sizes above at least 14pt - people with any kind of visual impairment will struggle to read the information you’re presenting them with 

● Don’t use sounds without any kind of visual signal or vibration - this results in deaf or hard of hearing users being unable to pick up on signals or alerts 

● Ensure your website is responsive for mobile phones - for those without access to a desktop, this is vital 

● Make sure most, if not all of the information on your application is written in simple English, with short sentences and little complex jargon - a high proportion of the population struggle with reading and writing, and large blocks of dense text can make an app completely inaccessible to them 

● Place buttons consistently throughout your application - this is common advice for user interface design regardless of accessibility, but it can be helpful for users with a visual impairment who rely on the relative placement of buttons on the screen to navigate an app 

● Make sure that precise gestures aren’t a requirement to navigate your app - this can be difficult for users with physical motor limitations 

● Don’t use overly complex or curvy fonts - these can be tricky to decipher for both users with visual impairments and users with dyslexia 

None of these features are time consuming or expensive to include, and can make a world of difference when it comes to keeping your app accessible. However, there are a few more advanced features you could consider if you want to assist further that may take more effort: 

● Ensure that your app can allow keyboard only controls for users with physical restrictions 

● Add accurate alt-text descriptions to all of your images for users who are visually impaired 

● Provide transcriptions for any audio or video content on your app for users who are visually impaired 

● Use ARIA attributes when you’re designing pages to assist screen-reader users 

● Let the user set a font size that suits their vision 

● Allow the user to choose a high contrast white on black mode (this can be useful for users who suffer from migraines and who struggle from intense brightness) 

Including these features won’t just help users with impairments and disabilities, but will also signal to those users that you intend to be a disability friendly and accessible company - in a world that rarely accommodates those with different needs, this can be enormously meaningful and valuable. Ultimately, individuals who will benefit from your app being accessible are just like any other target audience; you want to attract them to your company and make using your app as straightforward as possible for them.

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