Updated January 11, 2021
As mobile apps and the web have become an indispensable part of daily life, federal courts have interpreted the Americans With Disabilities Act as requiring all mobile apps to be fully accessible to people with disabilities. This was a just change considering 56 million disabled people live in the United States who depend on apps every day. Beforehand, far too many mobile apps hadn't been created in a way that made them easy for disabled individuals to use.
With that in mind, are your mobile apps ADA compliant? If not, you could find yourself liable if you don't align your design with current requirements. Now that the ADA requires apps to have interactivity in a manner that's easy to navigate, you may need to refocus your design efforts.
Any strategy you choose may have to come down to how you structure your app. There are two separate (but highly similar) standards for accessibility, namely ADA Section 508, and WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines. Section 508 is typically applicable for government agencies or entities that are pursuing government contracts. However, you are generally safe following the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) whether your app is built with natively or with web components.
While there are many accessibility requirements for mobile applications when it comes to ADA compliance, we have taken a few key elements and highlighted them in this post. Of course, the best way to ensure your app is adhering to all accessibility standards is to undertake a thorough mobile ADA Accessibility Audit, which would detail any shortcomings and prescribed remedies. But, before you even go that far, it may be helpful to a look at some of these points below and see what level of accommodation you have already made within your application.
Providing a Transcript with Multimedia
Since many successful apps use video or audio, you have to think about how disabled users will be able to view and hear needed elements. Users with hearing difficulties should be provided with the option to use closed captioning on your videos. It's also important to provide a full text transcript for any audio-only elements on your app to stay ADA compliant.
When applying captioning, synchronization with whatever is happening onscreen is also important to avoid caption confusion. Some functions of your app may require quick actions based on audio commands, and non-synchronized captioning could cause serious mistakes.
Making Your Design Colors Compliant
Color blindness might sound like a minor problem iwhen creating an app, but it's worth considering 8% of all men in the world (and 0.5% of all women) have this condition. Most suffer from red-green color blindness, which could affect how people perceive colors on your app, particularly when those colors are in close proximity to one another.
If your app relies too much on red and green colors to convey information, you'll have to provide alternative ways to indicate what colors they are. In most cases, just stating what the color is can help, though consider using other primary colors for vital data.
Making Sure Error Messages Are Understood
Error messages, particularly when users are filling out a form or submititng other data, are critical to helping users understand if they are using your app incorrectly. However, some disabilities can make it hard to perceive onscreen prompts, especially those that appear on the screen only after you take action. It is important to make sure error messages are encoded properly to be understood by screen readers and other assistive technologies (see below). We also recommend avoiding using red or green text as the sole means of indicating an error message; as we noted above, some colorblind users may have a hard time perceiving the text.
Making error messages clear in the platform you're using for iOS or Android can reduce any further confusion. You risk losing customers with disabilities when they get the impression your app is useless, just like anyone else would if you don't make the user interface simplified.
Both iOS and Android platforms offer accessibility features including text-to-speech, haptic feedback, and gesture technologies. Typically, visually impaired users make use of Voiceover in iOS and Talkback in Android. If you want to get a sense of how accessible your app really is, we might suggest giving these technologies a try to see how well your app performs. Regardless, if you haven't already, you should make sure your developers or agency are familiar with these technologies and have a plan to make your app accessible to them.
If you've put it off, we recommend that you start with a simple review of these high-level items on all of your mobile apps (and regular website) to ensure that you don't become the target of an ADA lawsuit. You should also start an ongoing conversation with your developers or third-party design team and come up with action plans for whatever remediation is necessary. It's better to be proactive and certainly much less expensive than waiting until you receive a demand letter or are sued in order to make the necessary changes.
It can be difficult for many companies to be 100% sure that they are compliant as the regulations are in some cases confusing and the testing methodology for apps in particular is challening for non-specialists. If you need help, we highly recommend undergoing an audit process that could identify any issues, rank them in order of severity, and help come up with recommendations for getting into compliance. This can help you understand the scope of your compliance issues and what further investment of time and resources will be necessary to make your apps accessible and ADA compliant.