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Accessibility in Disability: Revolutionizing Mobile Apps

Gerry Wilson  //  September 25, 2018  //  8 min read

Mobile technology has not only revolutionized the way we communicate, but is also becoming a vital medium for educational and rehabilitation. Disability does not mean inability, and the features and functionalities based on accessibility need to be present in modern day mobile apps. Smartphones and apps have transformed the way we perceive Assistive Technology as the advancements in AT are observable in many accessibility features of mobile devices.

According to the World Health Organization, about 15% of the world’s population has a disability. This post covers the advances in mobile technology to assist those with disabilities, along with exploring room for the industry to continue growing.

Why accessibility matters

Accessibility is not an optional feature; instead, it is a necessity for many. iOS and Android are the two major app development platforms have accessibility features that aid developers in creating apps that are befitting to the needs of people with disabilities. With an estimate of four billion mobile users across the globe, leaving out people with disabilities would be discriminatory.

Smartphones have brought great convenience to our lives, but sometimes they disconnect differently-abled people from their use. However, the rise in the development of mobile apps has started to cover accessibility needs.

Apple is steadfast in the development of creating devices and mobile app features that make the use of modern-day technology more accessible to them. While there are several types of disabilities that affect the accessibility of disabled people to smartphones, developers need to be aware of their unapproachability to modern technology and think sensibly about the restrictions binding such people.

In today’s world, incorporating design features and functionalities that encompass every basic need of your audience is necessary as it builds your credibility. Therefore, before you start brainstorming app ideas, you need to know how limitations in technology are affecting people with special needs and what you can do to make mobile apps accessible for them.

People with hearing impairments and deafness

Although improving, a void of inaccessibility for individuals with hearing impairments is left open. With the incorporation of video calls and multimedia sharing options, the hearing impaired and deaf community has in fact benefited from it. Mobile devices and apps possess the ability to become a medium that bridges the gap between the hearing-impaired community and technology without any boundaries.

Messaging options

Messaging options

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One advantage to choosing iOS for developing an app is that it brought accessibility to people with hearing disabilities. iMessage is Apple’s built-in messaging service; however, it only allows users having an iOS device to communicate with each other. You can send text messages, videos, and pictures, but it has a feature known as Digital Touch that provides you the ability to sketch and send your hand-drawn messages to other iMessage users.

Using animation in mobile apps is a good approach for a hearing-impaired audience as it provides an easy interpretation of converting text into sign language. Replaced by video chatting, multimedia messaging still has a purpose for those who cannot comfortably make voice calls.

Visible and vibrating alerts

Visible and vibrating alerts

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Visual and vibrating alerts for messages, incoming calls, and reminders help hearing-impaired users be aware of their notifications.

Apple has transformed the way developers perceive accessibility in hearing. IPhone users can set an LED light flash and vibration patterns for incoming calls or notifications. While Apple already has established technology for the deaf and hearing-impaired community, TapTap is an iOS app that is a great alternative. Based on the foundation of alerting systems, it vibrates your phone and flashes a bright light effect on the screen to alert you whenever noise is detected.

Adjustable volume control

Simplifying accessibility for individuals with hearing disability, Apple, collaborating with manufacturers, has designed hearing aids that work specifically for iPhone and iPad devices. These hearing aids allow you to experience great quality of sound and even let users can connect their Apple devices with their hearing aid to adjust volume controls according to their preference.

An app that focuses on hearing loss and hearing aids needs to have an adjustable volume control feature. Users will be able to amplify the sound and even hear speech in a noisy environment clearly. An app worthy of mention for the hard-of-hearing is uHear, a hearing test app that makes you take a few tests and display an analysis of the profoundness of your hearing disability.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing

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It is difficult for people with hearing loss and disability to experience verbal phone conversations, and video chatting has made the process of communication easier. In a recent study, the use of audiovisual and video calling apps improved by 23% in people with severe hearing loss.

With FaceTime, Apple has contributed to the cause of video calling as anyone can use this built-in calling feature in Apple devices. Pushing the boundaries of high-quality video chatting, a few apps that have contributed to this cause are Glide, Skype, and WhatsApp, as these apps are created with the purpose to enhance visually focused translation and communication.

People with vision impairment disabilities

With digitalization improving our life’s routine endeavors, technology has started to play a prevalent role in aiding individuals with special needs and approaching them with better opportunities for independence.

Accessibility in mobile apps is becoming necessary as 10% of the American population has low vision, and there is a dire necessity for more apps to be in the market that help the blind and visually impaired. Apple has accessibility tools and software that help such individuals communicate in various manners.

Screen magnifiers

Screen magnifiers

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Learning for visually impaired individuals has become more accessible as Apple already has a built-in magnifier called Zoom that assists you in accessing your phone’s display with ease. Users can enlarge text and even invert colors to better view the interface of the phone. It adjusts accordingly to your current display and provides you a smooth navigation of the features in your smartphone.

While magnifying tools are built into iOS devices already, another useful magnifier app is Lumin. As it is stated to become a ‘Super Powers For Your Eyes,’ Lumin not only works as a magnifying glass for your iPhone or iPad but also allows you to keep a history of the images you view and even share these with your friends via several social networking channels.

Screen reading tools

Screen reading tools

Image source

Both the iOS and Android have screen reading tools built into the mobile devices they support. Screen readers allow the blind and people with severe vision impairment to interact with a smartphone without seeing it. The VoiceOver is a screen reader for iOS devices that lets such users navigate through the device’s interface simply by touching the screen and using gestures to interact with it. Additionally, VoiceOver can now detect images and describe them to users with a single tap on the screen.

While there are not many screen-reading tools up to the standards of VoiceOver, if you intend to design a similar app, it is not a smart approach to design your app from scratch. Instead, you can incorporate the use of VoiceOver in the core functionality of your app.

Voice synthesizer feedback

VoiceOver is a screen reader, but you can also use it as a voice synthesizer. The concept of voice synthesis is used mostly in voice-controlled apps as it makes navigation easier for the blind. Navigation needs to be accessible for the blind community as it restricts their independence. That is why an app for the visually impaired needs to work as a GPS solution for them.

A worthy example of navigation apps is Blindsquare. This app uses the concept of high-quality speech synthesis and allows users to search for places using voice commands and get directions accordingly. For example, an important issue blind people face is to cross streets unassisted, and if you intend to incorporate such a feature in your mobile app then it would eliminate many barriers of dependency for them.

People with learning disabilities

An estimate of 15-20% of the world’s population has a learning disability that ranges from spelling, to writing, to reading. Apple devices have built-in features that make accessibility in reading and writing easier, and in turn, help people of every age cope with these difficulties.

Accessibility in reading and writing

For people with dyslexia, even the simplest reading and writing tasks can become difficult. The improvements in smartphone technology have introduced many assistive tools and apps that make learning easier for dyslexic people, and Apple devices have features supporting many problems that dyslexic people face.

Siri, an intelligent user assistant, is a great feature of iOS to learn how to spell words correctly. Speak Selection highlights words for you to follow and read along, and VoiceOver works as a screen reader but is also a great tool for converting text-to-speech that in turn allows you to speak and pronounce better. There is also a font called OpenDyslexic that improves readability issues.

Color and design formatting

Display options in mobile apps play a significant role in making apps easy to access. Complex layouts and interfaces make it difficult for people with reading disabilities, and the interface of an app dedicated to them needs to have dark colored text, suitable contrast, and lighting options. The app interface should not be bloated with unnecessary text, and it is important to highlight significant details.

iOS is an ideal platform for people with reading impairments as the interface of iOS devices is compact and allows users to select fonts and spacing according to their preferences. Apple’s guidelines for designing user interfaces have made it easier for developers to understand the usability of mobile apps. Many factors are involved to accommodate the difficulties people with learning disabilities face, but designing apps keeping assistive technology in mind is a great approach to simplify their learning capabilities.

Conclusion

Accessibility is no longer seen as a bonus feature; instead, it is now a core requisite to an app’s success.

Apple is playing a leading role in rendering great changes in the way people perceive accessibility and has incorporated assistive features for the differently abled to benefit from modern day technology to its full potential. As an industry, we’ve made a lot of improvements, but we still have a long way to go.

About Gerry Wilson

Gerry Wilson is a writer and a professional mobile app developer. He transforms complex ideas into innovative approaches for app development. His user-friendly visuals are based on the creative approaches that improve the digital marketing campaigns for brand awareness.
View all posts by Gerry Wilson >

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