Why Developers Need to Incorporate Mobile Accessibility Into Design
April 25, 2022

Sara Faatz
Progress

It's 2022 and a larger segment of any modern app's user base comes from mobile form factors. It's no longer enough that developers create apps that are simply functional and visually appealing — they need to be accessible as well.

Planning accessibility into mobile UI/UX is well documented, but challenging nonetheless. With some education and planning and an accessibility-first mindset, developers can democratize their applications and make them usable by everyone.

UX/UI Mobile Accessibility Design Concepts

Content ordering is key for mobile accessibility experience — everything has to be meaningful.

There are well accepted content ordering types — source order, visual order & semantic order.
The differences relate to how mobile developers implement the UI visual tree programmatically in code, how UI elements are visually rendered on the screen and lastly, how the content is interpreted by assistive technologies. A mobile developer's key goal should be to maintain alignment across different forms of content ordering — app navigation & interaction should be logical.

Additionally, touch targets should have meaningful flow and keyboard focus honored in semantic ordering of the visual tree. While A11ysupport requires upfront thought, tooling can help mobile developers do what is right. Most mobile operating systems will help with assistive technologies if app UX logically follows a meaningful content ordering. Newer cross-platform mobile frameworks can further help developers with semantic properties baked in for most UI and navigation elements.

Common Pitfalls Developers Make

There are pitfalls in mobile app design that can trip up developers. Regular mobile users might use a few shortcut gestures, but those are not A11y friendly if they provide the only way to do some action — alternatives help.

Accessibility offerings should be options in app settings and icons should be spelled out with labels. When there is a lack of understanding of disabilities or impairments and how to accommodate them it can lead to a lack of built in functionality.

Disabilities or impairments come in many forms — mobility or physical, auditory, visual, and cognitive or neurological, to name a few. Understanding each of those allows developers to easily make accommodations in the initial app design.

As an example, color contrasts or the ability of the user to adjust text size are critical for some people with visual impairments. Disabilities can be temporary (i.e. a broken arm) — every person will experience a disability or impairment at some point in their life.

Accessibility Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide global accessibility guidelines and legal benchmarks for web/mobile apps. There isn't one "all-knowing accessibility checklist" that exists, so developers must always strive to improve where we can.

Developers should continue to work with upcoming frameworks to extend accessibility support across various platforms and developer tools. In regards to accessibility, developers can always reach higher.

Accessibility support is top of mind as makers of UI components across platforms. Mobile user A11y needs are often met by assistive technologies — many are offered out of the box in operating systems.

Accessibility support requires thoughtful engineering efforts, but is key for meeting regulatory guidelines. It's important to live the A11y principles and walk the walk. A developer mindset to support A11y from the get go definitely helps as mobile apps should be usable and perceivable by all.

A mobile developer's goal should be to design the app well and aid assistive technologies to do their job. Creating more inclusive UI components can be a challenge at first, but education and following guidelines are a great way to start shifting the design mindset. Take the time to understand the disabilities users may face and make sure you are building accommodations for them. Accessibility should be built into apps as it democratizes interactions and, at the end of the day, is simply the right thing to do.

Sara Faatz is Director, Developer Relations, at Progress
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