People with disabilities use a range of devices to go online, depending on their needs, abilities, preferences and lifestyle. More and more often, though, the devices they’re using fall into the mobile category – that is, smartphones or tablets that are handheld (or wheelchair mounted!), and can be used any place with an Internet connection. When we talk about accessibility in mobile environments, it means that the websites and apps on these handheld devices are usable by people with disabilities.
Web accessibility in general is improving, thanks to greater awareness of legal obligations and the benefits to business. More companies are taking the necessary steps to ensure that people with disabilities, including those who use assistive technologies, are able to read and use their websites.
However, it’s quite possible for a website that is barrier-free on a desktop or laptop computer to suddenly become inaccessible in a mobile environment. That’s why, when businesses are making efforts to improve the accessibility of their digital properties, it’s critical that they don’t overlook accessibility in mobile environments.
Mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous in our society. A 2016 Pew Research Centre survey1 of adults with disabilities found that 70% of those under the age of 65 are using smartphones, and 44% of them have tablets. One in four adults and seniors with disabilities have a computer, a smartphone and a tablet. According to a survey by the non-profit WebAIM2 (Web Accessibility In Mind), about 70% of people with vision disabilities who use screen readers are using this technology on a mobile device.
Why People with Disabilities are Going Mobile
There are many advantages to using mobile devices when you have a disability. They’re perfectly portable, of course, and can be individually customized. They enable you to contact assistance or find information no matter where you are. This can be invaluable if you’re not able to enter the inaccessible buildings nearby or you can’t communicate with a passersby to get help or the answers to your questions.
A mobile device can also be loaded with disability-related apps that help you navigate your environment or break down barriers. The Looktel Money Reader app, for people who are blind, scans and identifies paper money in different denominations. RogerVoice, for people with hearing disabilities, automatically provides real-time text captioning of any phone calls.
Mobile devices also make everyday tasks, like banking, reviewing work documents or booking a class, that much more convenient – especially when it’s not so easy to get to a physical location in person or during regular business hours.
Accessibility in Mobile Environments is Vital
For people with disabilities to be able to use their mobile phones and tablets, it’s vital that the apps they install and the websites they visit are designed to be accessible in a mobile environment. If there are barriers, like a tiny image that’s too difficult to click on, then the technology becomes impossible to use.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Accessibility Initiative has developed a set of Mobile Best Practices that remove these kinds of barriers for users with disabilities. The best practices include a series of recommendations, including:
- As much as possible, avoid features that require the user to input text (instead, let the user choose from default values).
- Make sure the page can only be scrolled in one direction.
- Avoid using background images – or, if you use one, make sure the content is still readable whether or not the image loads.
- Avoid large, high-resolution images that use up bandwidth.
- Test all web pages and web-based features on mobile browsers to make sure they work properly.
Many of the best practices recommended for accessibility in mobile environments are the same as those for digital accessibility in general. For example, different colors should never be relied on to convey meaning (“All prices in red are the sale prices”), and page titles should be both brief and self-explanatory.
It’s important to adhere to the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These technical requirements, used to guide the development of fully accessible websites and computer documents, also cover accessibility in mobile environments.
The W3C has also developed Mobile Web Application Best Practices. When these best practices are followed, apps designed for mobile devices are more functional and less frustrating for everyone, not just people with disabilities. Clickable phone numbers, for example, is a serviceable feature regardless of whether you have difficulty typing.
Business Advantages of Accessibility in Mobile Environments
Consumers in general have been slow to get comfortable buying products and services in mobile environments. BI Intelligence3, a research service, notes that even though the average American adult spent more time on their mobile device than on their desktop computer in 2015, only 15% of their online spending that year took place in mobile transactions.
One of the main factors holding people back from making more purchases on their smartphones and tablets is the frustration encountered in a mobile environment. The screen is small, and it’s hard to read about products or enter payment information. Sound familiar? People with disabilities report similar barriers in their mobile experience.
Improving accessibility in a mobile environment for people with disabilities results in improving usability for everyone. According to BI Intelligence, companies that are purposely making it easier to shop on mobile devices have been driving the recent increase in mobile commerce. OuterBox4, an e-commerce web designer, predicts that this year, 50% of all digital commerce revenue in the U.S. will be derived from mobile transactions.
Companies whose websites and apps are accessible in a mobile environment will be the ones that benefit.
A mobile digital property that isn’t accessible, moreover, is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The companies that have become bound by recent settlements to improve the accessibility of their mobile apps include: the online education platform EdX; the online grocery delivery service Peapod; and the tax preparer H&R Block, among others.
Do It Right
The most reliable way to incorporate accessibility in mobile environments into your digital properties is to review – and follow – the technical guidelines outlined in WCAG. If you don’t have the expertise to do this yourself, consult with an expert about evaluating your website or app. Testing is critical, as it’s often the only way to know for sure that a website is readable and usable when it is rendered in a mobile setting. A professional, qualified firm will conduct thorough testing as part of its assessment. It will also be able to fix any accessibility problems in mobile environments.
If your aim is to provide a warm welcome to your customers with disabilities, make sure they continue to feel welcome when they’re picking up their smartphones instead of opening up their laptops.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.