Mobile Accessibility Best Practices

By Madison Taylor
July 12, 2022

Mobile accessibility in online user experiences has become a rising concern for many website and application developers. According to the American Bar Association, website accessibility laws have developed slowly as ADA lawsuit numbers reach an all-time high. Specifically, since 2018, website and mobile app accessibility lawsuits have made up roughly a fifth of all ADA Title III filings in federal courts.

While websites have clear regulations outlined by the WCAG 2.1 (web content accessibility guidelines), mobile applications lack a similar one-stop reference. Mobile-related ADA cases may continue to increase since over 37% of Americans access the web via their mobile smartphone devices.

Software development companies have come under fire and received penalties without realizing that their native mobile applications fall under ADA jurisdiction. Thorough and regular reviews of an application’s mobile accessibility remain a business priority among developers toward avoiding legal disputes and delivering optimized user experiences for each individual.

Mobile Accessibility Practice #1 – Apply Responsive Screen-Sizing

Many online users turn to mobile devices when accessing content, each with varying screen dimensions and interface orientations. Developers can create applications with optimal mobile accessibility by applying responsive site designs, where the information displayed on a webpage fits according to the aspect ratio of a viewing device.

Developers can optimize user experience by keeping information scannable across every mobile device type. Some effective screen optimization strategies include providing users with alternative mobile-view browsers and keeping the length of a link within the viewport width.

Mobile Accessibility Practice #2 – Facilitate Smooth Data Entry

Mobile accessibility practices also comprise a user’s convenience in data entry. Traditional text entry processes may prove difficult and tedious for individuals with disabilities or impairments, compromising their overall user experience.

Ideally, developers should support multi-modal data entry capabilities for native applications. These user-friendly features may include speech recognition, touchscreen keyboards on screen, and eye-tracking.

Alternatively, developers may include expedited data entry methods such as checkboxes, menu selections, and auto-filling features that help optimize user engagements while reducing the risks of errors.

Mobile Accessibility Practice #3 – Color Considerations

Similar to the guidelines set up by WCAG 2.1 for web pages, mobile applications require color contrast ratios optimized for most users. Mobile app developers need to go one step further by factoring in the glare and dimness found in outdoor environments.

Additionally, as text legibility changes with smaller screens, mobile applications require different color contrast ratio configurations from standard webpages (roughly 4.5:1). A more customized approach to color contrast settings will help mobile app developers cater to users with reduced vision, optimizing their user experience and content accessibility.

Mobile Accessibility Practice #4 – Simplify Device Gestures and Navigation Shortcuts

Standard device gestures for shortcut navigation, such as multi-finger taps and drawing an image with the fingertip on a touchscreen, might prove difficult for users with motor or dexterity disabilities.

Mobile app developers can optimize the general user experience by replacing standard shortcut gestures with more accessible native app control functions such as single taps and swipes. Developers may also include built-in features that enable users to quickly undo unintentional mistakes within the app, such as accidental clicks.

Mobile Accessibility Practice #5 – Empower Application Users

Developers can improve mobile accessibility by offering app users convenient customization features according to their needs and preferences.

For example, users may change the background, and text size and manage other visual program elements to access the full extent of the content despite their visual impairments. Rather than navigating through multiple tabs on a toolbar, these customization options should remain easy to find and applied by every app user.

Mobile Accessibility Practice #6 – Perform Quick Mobile Accessibility Checks

Native app developers can affirm the mobile accessibility of their software by conducting an assessment of their features. For instance, developers may check if there are instructions that make direct references to colors (e.g., click the red button to cancel the action).

Also, developers may review other technicalities to see if app content remains accessible in landscape and portrait views without omitting any information and provide adequately spaced buttons to avoid accidental clicks.

Running through a comprehensive mobile accessibility checklist with a visual and screen reader test will help developers improve user experiences and make information readily available to every app user before launching a program.

Closing Thoughts on Optimized Mobile Accessibility

Mobile accessibility strategies require a different approach from website-focused methods. Developers need to understand the fundamentals of WCAG and apply them to mobile environments beyond a webpage format.

Currently, there remains a pressing need to promote the importance of mobile accessibility, as desktop automated testing only accounts for a fraction of accessibility issues. Planning mobile device user experience has become a rule rather than an exception.

The collective organizational best practices of native app developers will gradually advance the recognition of mobile accessibility as a mainstream industry standard, keeping users of all backgrounds at the front and center of the developmental process.