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Developing accessible apps: Why it matters and how to start

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Developing accessible apps: Why it matters and how to start

Emma Hyde
September 14, 2023

TL;DR: Creating accessible, inclusive experiences is an important part of app development. There are a few common use cases you can solve for, and more benefits than you may expect.

In today's digital age, technology is an integral part of our lives, and creating inclusive experiences should be a top priority for developers. 

Accessibility in app development isn't just a buzzword; it's a fundamental principle that ensures technology can be used by everyone, regardless of their abilities. Understanding and implementing accessibility features is not just a nice-to-have but a necessity. So let’s talk about why developers should be concerned with accessible tech, delve into some common disabilities in the tech world, and discuss how to create accessible experiences.

It’s not just about disabilities

Sometimes, building accessible apps doesn’t mean accommodating for disabilities like vision impairment or hearing difficulties. It often just means making your app available to more users. That could mean accommodating mobile users, or even having a car-friendly version, like in the case of Spotify. Accessibility is about creating a world where everyone can participate fully. That means meeting people where they’re at, whether they need help reading, understanding, or just listening to music in the car.

Why should you build with accessibility in mind?

Better user experiences

When you think about building your app to accommodate common accessibility challenges, you’re forced to address issues you wouldn’t think about. Ensuring your app is accessible often means making simple UI changes like making sure your colors have enough contrast or minimizing the amount of navigation links. 

Some accommodations even have multiple benefits. For example, maintaining proper hierarchy for your headings (H1, H2, etc) means your content can be properly read by screen readers, but is also an important consideration in your SEO strategy.

A larger user base

By making your app accessible, you open the doors to a larger and more diverse user base. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 15% of the global population lives with some form of disability. By building your app with accessibility in mind, you’re able to potentially tap into an audience with unmet needs. Many large organizations and governments require that an app passes a11y tests before they will even consider using it!

Legal and ethical considerations

More and more, we see countries implementing accessibility regulations, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). But beyond the legal obligations, there’s a real concern around the ethics of modern tech development. Whether you look at OpenAI, Anthropic, or others, leaders in the AI space have a heavy focus on building safe and ethical technology. Because as developers, it’s our responsibility to ensure that modern tech is built to work for the people who use it, and often, that means making it accessible and inclusive.

Implementing common accessibility solutions

To create accessible experiences, you need to understand the needs your potential users are facing when they use your app, and how to accommodate them. Here are a few considerations you can use for your next app.

Visual impairments

Challenge: Users with visual impairments may rely on screen readers or braille displays to navigate digital content.

Solution: Make sure your app is compatible with screen readers by using proper headings, markup, and alt text for images. Offer the option of high contrast or resizable text to enhance readability. Choose colors that work for people with color blindness, and avoid using colors as the only way to distinguish between two elements.

Hearing impairments

Challenge: People with hearing impairments typically use visual cues, such as video captions or sign language interpreters to navigate their tech.

Solution: Include closed captioning or subtitles for multimedia content. Ensure that your app can be used without sound, and provide visual notifications for important audio information.

Cognitive and learning disabilities

Challenge: Confusing interfaces and poorly structured information can be especially challenging to people with cognitive and learning disabilities.

Solution: Simplify your app's design, provide clear and concise instructions, and offer customizable settings for users to tailor the app to their needs. Writing is easiest to read at a 7th grade level or lower, so try to aim for that with your written content, and consider using fonts that are more user-friendly.

Motor disabilities

Challenge: Anyone with motor disabilities may have some difficulty using traditional input methods like a mouse or keyboard.

Solution: Implement keyboard navigation and make sure that any clickable buttons or links are large enough to use. You can also offer alternatives like voice commands, or even gestures for users with limited dexterity.

Creating accessible experiences

Now that you understand the "why" and have some insights into common disabilities, let's look at how you can create accessible experiences.

Start with inclusive design

Incorporate accessibility from the outset of your project. Get feedback from users with disabilities in your design and testing phases so that you’re not guessing, you actually understand their needs.

Follow accessibility guidelines

Read up on established accessibility standards like WCAG to ensure your app meets recognized criteria for inclusivity.

Test your tech

Try using assistive tools yourself. Walk through your project with a screen reader, and regularly test your app to gather feedback from users with disabilities so you can identify and fix issues.

Prioritize user experience

Remember that accessibility isn't just about compliance, it's about creating a better user experience for everyone. An accessible app is often a more user-friendly app, and gives you the chance to think about solutions to niche problems, like making sure your app is usable in bright sunlight.

If you’re interested in learning more about incorporating accessibility into your development, there are many organizations that are working towards a more inclusive tech world. We recommend reviewing resources like the Web Accessibility Initiative, and reading up on The A11y Project.

Building accessible apps doesn’t have to be another thing on your development checklist. It can be an opportunity to create technology that empowers everyone, regardless of their abilities. By understanding common disabilities, following accessibility guidelines, and prioritizing user experience, you can contribute to a more accessible and inclusive digital landscape.

If you’re looking to start a new app project, Gadget gives you a full-stack platform with built-in features like auth, billing, and third party connections, so you can spend more time focusing on the features that matter to you — like accessibility.

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