The Continued Importance of Accessibility in Mobile

A successful app serves the user first and must be built with the appropriate target audience in mind. It doesn’t matter how pixel-perfect the design and strategy behind the app is if it isn’t accessible to the people who will ultimately install, purchase and spend hours in the app!

That being said, almost one in five of the world’s population currently lives with some kind of recognized disability. The mobile industry, along with the Federal Communications Commission, is stepping up to help improve the usability of phones and tablets for those with disabilities. Mobile accessibility allows those with sensory or physical limitations to use devices in an intuitive, easy and simple way.  As the devices and technologies continue to advance, accessibility is increasingly improving and becoming more prevalent.

Below is a brief summary of both iOS and Android accessibility solutions…


Apple has always had a strong focus on accessibility. As of iOS 4, Apple has provided a mature API allowing developers to ensure that their apps work well with VoiceOver. The revolutionary screen reader for blind and low-vision users, VoiceOver, allows users to interact directly with objects onscreen and receive contextual information as they touch different interface elements. In addition, low-vision users can take advantage of global screen zoom, up to 56 pt text in system applications, white-on-black screen display, and speak selection for text, even when VoiceOver is disabled.

Apple also announced Guided Access as part of WWDC 2012 back in June. Guided Access helps students with disabilities, such as autism, remain on task and focused on content. It allows a parent, teacher, or administrator to limit an iOS device to one app by disabling the Home button, as well as restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen.

For hearing-impaired users, iOS supports closed captioning across all video players and custom vibrations can be assigned to contacts. Finally, AssistiveTouch is available to users with impaired motor skills. The AssistiveTouch technology allows users to use a single finger or stylus to perform Multi-Touch gestures and interact with hardware using an on-screen interface.

To learn more about Apple’s commitment to accessibility, visit


Accessibility on Android devices has been entirely reworked for Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Google’s Project Eyes-Free is a collection of Android applications that enable efficient eyes-free interaction with your mobile phone. Explore By Touch was added as part of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which made finding elements on screen much easier, and no longer required a keyboard or directional-pad on your device. In the latest version of Android this has been extended to include more accessibility gestures, and support for Braille keyboards. This is available through BrailleBack, a part of Google’s Eyes-Free Project. Combined with the existing screen reader TalkBack service, the new accessibility tools have made the newest Android devices accessible to everyone. 

Our lead Android developer, Luke Wallace, believes the easiest way to make an Android app accessible is to rely on the core Android framework as much as possible. Using standard elements for navigation and display allow for simple implementations, usually by merely defining the description of the element in the layout itself. Following the Android Design Guidelines for sizing and spacing will ensure that all elements are touchable by everyone, and not so close together that blind and low-vision users have a hard time finding the various elements.

To learn more about Google’s commitment to accessibility, visit