Millions of Reasons Why Mobile Accessibility is Vital

UI/UX Design

Kyle and Jason sitting on a sofa in the Komodo studio with their laptops open
Kyle and Jason sitting on a sofa in the Komodo studio with their laptops open
Kyle and Jason sitting on a sofa in the Komodo studio with their laptops open

Mobile Accessibility: The Data

So, you want to build a mobile app? You’ve got a lot of work to do - from discovery to development, design to product testing and even an ongoing cycle of updates. With over 218 billion app downloads in 2020,  your organisation can harness the power of apps to reach and empower your audience - but only if it is accessible to all.

There are around 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, and roughly 84% of all UK adults own a smartphone - so many of your mobile app users are likely to have some form of disability. And it’s not just apps that require accessibility; all digital products must be inclusive from the outset to make sure all of your users are considered. In fact, 61% of people won’t return to an inaccessible mobile site. 

Accessibility is about so much more than designing for those with disabilities - it’s about creating a digital product in a way that makes it accessible to all users, regardless of any disabilities or impairments. 

In many ways, designing for accessibility is all about UX. Great UX design prioritises making a user’s life easier, and great accessible design takes that further by making ALL users’ lives easier.

Accessibility in mobile app design

In mobile design, unique accessibility issues are posed by the physical constraints of mobile phones such as touchscreen interaction, smaller screen sizes, outdoor usage, different types of input including speech and capacitive touch (multi-touch).

There are many types of impairment and many different types of mobile devices: how can a product owner ensure their new mobile app is as accessible as possible? Even the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) W3C standards call for ‘more than mobile’ accessibility design that covers phones, tablets, digital TVs, wearable smart tech, car dashboards and any other smart devices.

To design effectively for mobile apps, your agency or team should be considering the following areas of disability: mobility, hearing, sight and how we learn and understand information.

Mobility and accessibility

Touchscreen interactions must be optimised for specific areas of touch - allowing those with difficulty using a finger press to register touches. This means creating touch targets on your buttons at least 9x9mm.

An app should accommodate both left and right-handed users, whilst also being designed to consider those with limited thumb motion - keeping the most commonly used elements of your app in a range of the thumb.

Alternative input methods can also be added to your app to circumvent issues that may occur for users who lack dexterity. Voice control, keyboard support and gesture control are all options to consider. W3C guidelines stipulate that keyboard support should be included and any non-keyboard gestures should be made as simple as possible.

Visibility and accessibility

Over 2 million people in the UK live with sight loss and of those, 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. In addition, there are approximately 3 million colour blind people in the UK. You can read more about inclusive colours and designing for colour vision deficiency in this article here.

Your mobile app should accommodate these people - but doing so requires considering several features such as:

  • Text size: use large, bold text where possible with high contrast colour. While you may want a more ‘flashy’ looking app, remember that text becomes very hard to read even for people with 20/20 vision if the text is too small or blends into the background. The text should be magnifiable and readable up to 200% magnification to ensure those with difficulties can zoom in to meet their needs.

  • Font: some fonts can be hard for those with visibility issues to perceive - especially the vowels a, e, o and u. Choose a font such as Roboto which is designed to be easy to read.

  • Colour filters/contrast: mobile apps must meet certain contrast standards to ensure readability in all conditions. They should also be designed with colour-blindness in mind, allowing users to operate the app properly without colour affecting the outcome.

Screen reader-friendly: apps must be made suitable for screen reader users and tested to ensure no part of the app causes the screen reader technology to freeze.

Hearing and accessibility

1 in 6 UK adults are affected by hearing loss, with 900,000 people severely or profoundly deaf. This means your app should accommodate for hearing loss, which means all audio and video segments should have a text transcript and, in the case of video, captions. Your app shouldn’t use sounds as a critical feature - unless there’s a way to replicate the experience in a non-aural way. For example, if your app emits a clear notification noise alert, it must be accompanied by vibration.

Cognitive function & accessibility

Approximately 1.5 million people in the UK have a learning disability, with the figure increasing each year. You can read more about designing for cognitive disabilities here.

These people may struggle with certain aspects of your app if you don’t design it around some clear guidelines which are, fortunately, fairly standard practice in good UX:

  • A clear hierarchy of information: the most important information should be as clear as possible and in the most obvious part of your app.

  • Language: use language which can be read at a primary-school age.

  • Layout: a consistent layout should be used throughout the app to avoid confusion.

Why mobile app accessibility is vital in 2021 and beyond…

If you’ve read this far, you understand the importance of accessibility and have some idea of how to ensure your app is designed with various disabilities in mind. But understanding WHY accessibility is so vital comes down to simple maths:

Imagine your app is relatively small-scale, targeting just 1000 users. 19% of working-age UK adults have a disability - which means your app alone would have approximately 190 users who are disabled. That’s not even counting those who are colourblind, have a visual impairment or have hearing issues.

Already a dominant force in society, smartphone usage will continue to become more commonplace as 5G and other connectivity measures will make access easier than ever.

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