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Accessibility in practice: Apple and Android

We have discussed the concept of accessibility and what it means in the context of digital interface design. But how are accessibility principles implemented?

Apple and Android are two of the biggest app development platforms. If you own a mobile device, there is a good chance that it is either running the iOS or Android operating systems.

iOS is one of the mobile operating systems developed by Apple and runs on the iPhone and iPad. Android is developed by Google and runs on many non-Apple mobile devices. Both operating systems have developed their own accessibility guides intended for use with app development on their platforms. They are a good source of practical information on how accessibility guidelines can actually be implemented. We’ve highlighted some examples below.

Android

  • To help visually impaired users, Android includes features such as Talkback that provides audio feedback as the app is used. In order for the user to hear useful feedback, the app developer must program the app to include this feature. This includes adding descriptions of the content and calling specific functions within the code itself.
  • To increase visual accessibility, the developer is also advised to group similar content together and make use of increased font size and magnification. They are also advised to ensure there is sufficient colour contrast and make use of visual cues other than colour for those that are colour blind.
  • To increase motor accessibility, Switch and Voice access are available on Android devices. Voice access allows the user to operate the device by speaking into the microphone. The commands are translated to physical functions. Switch access allows the user to use physical buttons instead of the touchscreen. In order to ensure as much motor accessibility as possible, developers are also advised to use adequately sized touch targets and low density layouts.

Apple

Apple have identified impairments in four categories. These are impairments in:

  • vision
  • hearing
  • physical and motor abilities
  • literacy and learning abilities.

In order to maximise accessibility in these areas, iOS includes features that the developer can use when they are developing their app.

  • For the visually impaired, VoiceOver allows for audio feedback similar to Android’s Talkback. There are visual and haptic notification options for the hearing impaired.
  • For those with physical and motor impairments there are built in features like Switch, Siri and Assistive Touch.
  • For the literacy and learning impaired there is Speak Screen, typing feedback and Safari Reader.

Apple provide the above features alongside best practice guidelines for implementing them. These guidelines are:

  • Design with accessibility in mind: make information available to everyone, regardless of their capabilities or situation.
  • Support personalisation: using standard controls to implement the UI allows the user access to automatic accessibility preferences supported by iOS.
  • Audit and test for accessibility: auditing your app gives you a comprehensive list of issues to fix and testing helps you ensure that all users can complete the most important tasks in your app.

App developers naturally want their app to be used by everyone. By implementing the features discussed above, you are making sure that as many people as possible can use your app.

Over to you

Android and Apple have put together detailed guides on how to make sure you maximise accessibility in your app. Have a look at the links below and read through the material.

  • Can you identify practices that are common to both platforms? Are there any differences?

Discuss your findings in the Comments section.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to UX and Accessible Design

UAL Creative Computing Institute