Prioritize Mobile Accessibility or Face an Uncertain Future
Why mobile developers must include accessibility in everything they do
June 09, 2022

Dylan Barrell
Deque Systems

Today, native mobile developers are in high demand — and rare. Accessibility-first mobile developers are absolute unicorns. But this must change — and quickly. Look at these statistics:

■ Disability touches 73% of the general population

85% use smartphones

96% of Gen-Zers use mobile devices (more on this later)

The ultimate job of any developer is to increase revenue and promote company growth. Mobile apps are fast becoming critical pieces of this. Your day-to-day job, however, is designing killer apps that change individual user outcomes for the better. But, in this incredibly competitive environment, your mobile app needs to stand out to attract users and be "buzzworthy."

How? What's left to explore?

Designing apps to be usable on every smartphone, all UIs, and UI versions is expected. Now, designing those apps to be accessible for every user in every situation is the new development frontier.

Cutting-edge mobile developers reject the idea that mobile accessibility isn't a necessity. Some of the reasons why might surprise you.

■ Mobile accessibility lawsuits are trending up and this will continue. This isn't exactly news, but it will impact your future and the future of your company.

■ Accessibility actually affects the majority of your market share. If you only consider people who actually HAVE disabilities you dramatically underestimate the impact of inaccessible apps. Add in the families and communities surrounding these people and that number leaps from 25% of consumers to 73%. All these people care about accessibility because they care about their friends and family. They often make decisions on using web and mobile apps based, at least in part, on their accessibility to their loved ones. Can you afford to risk 73% of your potential audience?

■ Most importantly, the future of mobile rests in the hands of Gen-Z. This generation (the demographic cohort born between 1997 and 2012) — and likely all generations after them — see accessibility as a human right, just like other types of diversity and inclusion. They're highly connected and use their smartphones for almost everything. They have strong opinions, act on them, and share their opinions across social media. You're risking your entire future if you don't consider this group.

So how can you get ahead of this trend?

In the past, accessibility has been painful — requiring specialized expertise, slowing your development velocity, and causing tremendous rework. And, it's still unfamiliar territory for most designers and developers. No longer.

Whether new and existing native apps are built with XML or Compose, UIKit, or SwiftUI, modern accessibility testing products can test any mobile feature, any time, on any device. With CI/CD integration, mobile developers can catch issues faster, before they even reach manual testing stages. Here are three key things to look for in these products:

1. Automation: Maintaining development velocity is non-negotiable, so accessibility without automation is a non-starter. Efficiently adding accessibility to your processes demands the highest level of automated testing possible. Modern tools can automate up to 57% of accessibility testing. Add semi-automated testing to that, and you can significantly reduce the length of time for manual tests down to 20% or less. That's a considerable savings in time and effort.

2. Intuitive UI: It's true that accessibility has required extensive expertise in the past. Modern products reduce or even eliminate that requirement with automation that includes machine learning, built-in guidance for developers such as sample code, recommended solutions to specific issues, and links to clear remediation guidance on the specific issue you're facing built right into the UI (on-demand learning).

3. High-quality, consistent rules engine: One and two above are not possible without a deep and accurate rules engine driving the testing. What's going on behind the test button is critical. Applying these rules consistently across projects ensures that everyone is working from the same playbook and producing consistent results. This clarity and consistency not only saves you time and rework, it paves the way for other developers who may join your team, making them more productive more quickly. It also smooths the dev process through CI/CD processes, QA, and ultimately, into production.

Having said all this, it's important to understand that automation alone can't solve every accessibility issue. The mobile apps being built today still require a combination of automated and manual accessibility testing to achieve full coverage. Some aspects of accessibility require a human touch. Automation "only" will result in more rework.

Creating more inclusive mobile apps can be a challenge at first, but modern accessibility testing products make the journey easier, more intuitive, and much more sustainable. Having an accessibility-first mindset is a great start. Leveraging the right tools will help you turn that mindset into killer apps. High velocity mobile accessibility is achievable today. Mobile app developers must make it a priority now, or suffer the consequences.

Dylan Barrell is CTO of Deque Systems
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