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Mobile Accessibility

Mobile accessibility generally refers to making Web sites and applications accessible to people with disabilities when they are using mobile devices. Traditional Web accessibility and its best practices are influencing mobile design and can result in universality.

Accessibility's Impact on Mobile

Traditional Web accessibility solutions are contributing to solving the types of problems that mobile experiences. Things such as on-screen keyboards and magnification have been staples in accessibility since the eighties. As Matt May, an accessibility evangelist, said in a video interview:

...what we've learned over decades of dealing with these issues in the field of accessibility is that the things that were needs for people with disabilities are now wants for lots of other people.

A transcript of the video, "Matt May talks about how accessibility has influenced mobile development and design," is available.

Overlapping Best Practices

Diagram: Mobile and disability significantly overlap in techniques. Disability's scope is slightly larger.

Many fundamental accessibility best practices apply to mobile interfaces and content. For instance, text and images need to meet relevant requirements for sufficient color contrast, screens need to be laid out in a way that permits intuitive navigation, and controls need to respond to multiple modalities of input.

A significant overlap exists in techniques for making a Web site accessible for a mobile device and for people with disabilities. As the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative states:

Users of mobile devices and people with disabilities experience similar barriers when interacting with Web content. For example, mobile phone users will have a hard time if a Web site's navigation requires the use of a mouse...

They recommend addressing mobile and disability accessibility at the same time:

Following these two guidelines makes your Web content more accessible to everyone regardless of situation, environment, or device. Designing to the guidelines together, instead of separately, can make the process more efficient.

Universal Design

This all comes down to designing for the largest possible audience regardless of disability or ability and is known as universal design. It is an inclusive approach to design that honors human diversity. Matt May's "Wanted: Mobile Dev with 40 Years Experience" presentation slides detail its seven principles:

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Universality and the Curb Cut Effect

Taking the lessons learned from accessibility and bringing them into the mobile space can contribute to universality and result in an "Electronic Curb Cut Effect." A multitude of benefits for other people can occur when developing technology products and services with accessibility in mind just as curb cuts for wheelchairs also help people with strollers, shopping carts, and wheeled luggage.

Severity of Problems
Bar graph: People with disabilities experience significantly more issues at more severe levels than mobile users.

However, curb cuts weren't put in for people with strollers, shopping carts, and wheeled luggage. They were put in for people with wheelchairs, because the of the severity of problems and consequences. People with disabilities have a moral, legal, and ethical right to access, which enables them as Matt May said in the video "to live a life unfettered.": can solve people's problems by making things a little easier for them in their environment.

That carries over to everyone but it benefits people with disabilities most because you're integrating that problem. You realize if they can't do what they need to be doing they are actually being blocked from something. So it is more than a convenience. It is enabling someone to live a life unfettered.

Further Information