Los Altos-based digital accessibility firm Evinced has announced a new suite of tools that will make mobile app accessibility testing faster, easier and more reliable than ever before.
Despite today’s predominantly mobile-first digital landscape, mobile app accessibility testing continues to lag behind that of regular websites.
There are several reasons for this, not least the fact that app-based mobile operating systems are a newer technology, but still encounter the age-old issue of accessibility considerations being something of an afterthought for designers of digital products.
This picture is changing, albeit slowly. According to a report published last year by Gartner, “By 2023, digital products in full Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Level 2 compliance will outperform their market competitors by 50%.”
At the same time, the report adds, “By 2025, all G20 countries — which account for 90% of the global world product — will establish enforceable legal standards for digital accessibility, leading to a “GDPR moment” in which businesses scramble to achieve compliance.”
Difficult to achieve
Intuitively, mobile app accessibility compliance should be easier than web accessibility. Desktop and laptop users routinely use additional third-party assistive software such as ZoomText and JAWS which help visually impaired users.
Interactions with third-party assistive technology can create another point of failure.
Mobile apps, on the other hand, tend to only rely on software already built into the operating system such as Apple’s VoiceOver on iOS and TalkBack on Android.
As Evinced’s CEO Navin Thadani explains, mobile accessibility is still not as straightforward as might appear on the surface.
“Indeed, built-in mobile accessibility features are more tightly coupled in the mobile ecosystem,” says Thadani.
“However, this doesn’t change the fact that the content that’s created for mobile needs to be able to take advantage of those assistive technologies in the first place,” he continues.
“It’s not that someone can develop an app in any which way and VoiceOver or TalkBack are going to automatically figure it out. The app has to be told how to speak to the assistive technology.”
Pulling out reliable accessibility data on mobile operating systems is made even harder due to the extra security that inevitably comes with a closed ecosystem.
Extracting the data
Evinced’s latest toolkit consists of a two-part solution comprising free and paid elements.
The solution works across both iOS and Android apps and can be audited on actual devices, using emulators or a device cloud.
Evinced’s free product know as Flow Analyser can be deployed by any tester, even those without specialized knowledge of accessibility and software development, and can quickly identify common accessibility fails simply by connecting a phone to a computer running Evinced’s desktop client, firing up the target app and running a scan.
The paid solution for enterprise customers – Automation for Mobile is a tool for app developers that allows accessibility testing to be baked in alongside other mobile UI automation tests.
This enables an accessibility scan to run automatically each time a developer modifies an existing feature or adds a new one.
Should common fails be detected like missing Alt Text on images or incorrectly labeled buttons the tool will notify the developer of the issues at hand before they commit to the new code.
Emphasizing the urgent need to bring app accessibility up to speed with the web, Thadani says, “I do believe the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards complete reliance on digital media but wrapped into this – the pure convenience of access one gets with mobile is oftentimes so much higher than on other devices.”
Evinced plans to continue improving and refining the toolkit over time and in the next stage is hoping to go beyond standard accessibility checklist items to look more closely at interactive elements like how an app behaves if a user zooms in or alters the font size.
All of this adds and underlines the idea that, in 2021, the web must not just be an equitable and accessible place on our desks or our laps, but at our fingertips wherever we go.