Seven top tips for creating accessible mobile apps

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These seven top tips will help you crack mobile accessibility and are based on our experience of working with many companies on creating accessible mobile apps. Making apps accessible means millions more people can use your product, not just those with recognised disabilities such as sight or hearing loss.

1. Native controls are best

Use native controls and components rather than developing custom User Interface (UI) elements. Native controls typically have accessibility built in, especially when implementing them in line with the developer guidelines.

2. Make use of platform specific guidance

Both Apple and Google provide specific accessibility guidance for developers. They're well worth following to ensure a high level of accessibility.

3. Test during development

Start thinking about accessibility from the beginning of a project and the development process will be easier and less costly than trying to fix it later. During the process there is a certain amount of in-situ testing that can be carried out under the Quality Assurance (QA) process, or by developers themselves.

Mobile screenreaders such as VoiceOver (iOS) or Talkback (Android) can be used to expose the underlying accessibility of mobile applications. You can test using VoiceOver on iOS and the Android website offers a testing checklist for Android, including Talkback.

Comprehensive accessibility reviews are also recommended.

a snap shot of the BBC accessibility page

4. Develop in-house guidelines

It's useful to have an in-house standard for accessibility to use across applications. While the Apple and Google guidelines are worthwhile as reference for developers, the BBC has developed its own mobile guideline, which you can find on their website.

They're platform agnostic guidelines, covering both native and hybrid apps, with example code for both platforms. You could use these as the basis for creating your own guidelines, or just use the BBC ones instead.

5. Create an accessible colour palette

All accessibility guidelines make reference to colour contrast. Rather than address issues during the QA or development stages, it is best to create a colour palette that makes use of the best colours for accessibility. The W3C web based colour contrast checkpoint is well recognised here, defines standard checks for contrast.

This blog from UX designer Staphanie Walter offers a useful guide on creating an accessible colour palette can be found here. And Tanaguru Constrast-Finder offers a good online resource for testing contrast of specific colours.

6. The benefits of user testing

Technical accessibility is half of the battle, but an application needs to be usable in addition to being accessible. This can be determined through actual user testing with disabled people. You could do this yourself, or outsource to a third party. This web usability testing article is really useful and applicable to mobile as well as regular computers

7. Persona based testing

A simpler way to include provisional user testing during design and development is through the use of 'personas'. You could create a set of personas representing typical users and use these in design sessions to work through potential issues. A useful overview of this approach is available from the website

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