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Mobile Apps - a series on their accessibility

The Accessibility Forum 2.0 blog recently started a series on mobile apps and their accessibility to people with disabilities. First they looked into the question of how Section 508 relates to mobile apps. Then they discussed their accessibility in more detail. Copies of both posts are included below.

Mobile Web apps and Section 508

Mobile Web applications (apps) are typically web applications that are accessed over the Internet or an intranet and are covered by technical standards for Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications (1194.22). Many mobile web apps also include software applications, such as Browsers, plug-ins and extensions which are covered by technical standards for Software Applications and Operating Systems (1194.21). Also, if the app uses multimedia then technical standards for Video or Multimedia Products (1194.24) would apply.

Another feature that makes mobile web apps different from applications for desktop computers is that their intended use is for Smart phones or PDAs. Due to the small size of these devices, there may be accessibility implications that are not adequately covered by the technical provisions from Section 1194.22 and Section 1194.21. This is why it is important to include Functional Performance Criteria Section (1194.31) in all proposals.

In addition, technical standards for Self Contained, Closed Products (1194.25) may need to be included to address mobile web apps if they are to be operated from platforms (PDAs or smart phones) without ability to use assistive technologies, whether built-in or added on. For example, an application to run on the Blackberry might need to provide speech output or magnification if no usable standard mechanism is available on that platform.

Mobile Apps – Their usability and accessibility

Today content publishers and service providers, looking to serve consumers over the mobile phone, must make crucial decisions between web or native application interfaces. However, they often ignore the usability and accessibility of these apps. Here are some useful web sites we found which deal with mobile apps and their accessibility and usability:

http://www.w3.org/TR/mwabp/
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/mobile-usability.html
http://www.educause.edu/Resources/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAboutMobil/227508
http://webaim.org/discussion/mail_thread?thread=4628
http://www.igi-global.com/bookstore/chapter.aspx?titleid=26638

These sites strengthen the view that the accessibility of mobile apps are affected by the device. Some considerations to keep in mind while developing mobile apps:

  • Images can be problematic with mobile apps. Connections can be slow, although they are getting faster, and loading images is a problem. Some mobile devices do not even support images.
  • Flash and gif animations generally do not work well.
  • JavaScript does not generally work well.
  • Plain old HTML is usually the best at conveying information.
  • Changing font sizes are even more important. (NOTE the ability to change them?)
  • Non-linear websites are hard to view.
  • Input of information (keyboard or touchpad) is hard and mistakes can be difficult to correct. Keystrokes or touches should be limited.

What do you think?

There are also accessibility issues associated with specific devices (iPhone, BlackBerry, etc.). More on this in a future post.

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