What is a Mobile App Accessibility and Why Is It a Must?

Alex Danchenko

It seems like a lifetime ago that mobile applications were just a twinkle in the eyes of mobile phone suppliers. It wasn’t until the Nokia 6110 phone produced the Snake app that the ball started rolling, and by July 2008, Apple had delivered the first 500 apps.

Nowadays, there are many mobile applications in existence which is mind-boggling. With more than 2.9 million apps currently available in the Google Play Store and 4.37 million apps in the Apple App Store, the popularity of mobile applications is apparent.

accessibility for apps

Mobile accessibility, in general, continues to be an issue in a world that has been built for the non-disabled. However, we’re seeing a growing push in accessibility in every area and within mobile applications in particular.  

As a business limiting mobile app accessibility, it could be limiting a huge chunk of an audience the company would otherwise reach. According to Diamond’s report surveying the top 20 free apps in both the iOS and Android app stores, it found 65% of free iOS apps and 75% of Android apps passed accessibility standards.

With that in mind, the need for accessibility is crucial in the mobile app's development stage if you're looking to release a mobile application.

What is Mobile App Accessibility?

In this day and age, creating mobile applications should be intended for use by everyone who comes across them.

Mobile app accessibility describes the relevancy of designing mobile applications for usage on smartphones, wearables, and tablets to be user-friendly. Regardless of the disability, the mobile app should still serve its use and functionality to those with one.

Legally, the rules and regulations around them are pretty vague and aren’t necessarily consistent across territories. For US Federal courts, there are four requirements that mobile applications must adhere to:

  1. If the app is tied to a physical entity, business, or location. For example, a retail store.
  2. If the app is only accessible through the web. An example of this would be Netflix.
  3. Apps that are used by Federal employees, like MyTSA.
  4. The app meets CVAA requirements, requiring  advanced communications to be accessible. Whatsapp is an example of this.

Those who don’t have accessibility requirements can easily forget just how important it is to include digital products such as mobile applications. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 2 billion people living in the world have a disability. With 20% finding great functional difficulty in living their day-to-day lives, creating digital products accessible to them would be immensely appreciated.

Why Your App Must Be Accessible

Imagine being limited in your ability to use a physical or digital product in your day-to-day life. For those with a disability, anything and everything can present its own set of challenges.

There are several reasons why mobile apps should be accessible in modern times.

The number of people with disabilities in the world

With over 2 billion people worldwide with a disability, a significant  portion of a company’s audience might have accessibility needs.

By not catering to this audience, a business or those responsible for creating the app sabotages  their progress.

Don’t you think it’s that big of a deal? Well, those with disabilities control $8 trillion in spending on the market. That sizeable amount shouldn’t be ignored when trying to achieve sales growth.

Characteristics of people with disabilities during the development of a mobile app

When it comes to building an accessible-friendly mobile application, characteristics must be considered.

In relation to those with disabilities, these characteristics could be their visual impairments, cognitive challenges, as well as auditory and mobility impairments. Knowing these characteristics can help better design the app to serve its purpose for those with access needs.

The importance of a user-friendly, positive customer experience

All customers deserve and should receive a positive experience. That experience is greatly influenced by how user-friendly the mobile application is.

With the average smartphone user back in 2020 downloading 40 apps to their mobile phone, the usage of mobile apps was growing exponentially. That means competition to be one of those apps on a user’s phone was also growing.

One of the key principles of accessibility for mobile apps is user-friendliness, and not doing enough for those with access needs will diminish a mobile app’s success.

Mobile Accessibility Principles

Before we delve into the design tips required for building an accessible app, it’s worth understanding the main principles of accessibility.

These key principles use the POUR acronym. This criterion has been constructed with the help of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

  • Perceivable

However the user perceives the information being provided, it needs to be clear to everyone, regardless of disability. For example, if they cannot see, they’ll be able to read it via a screen reader, or someone who cannot hear will have captions to understand the content.

  • Operable

The app should be operable in more than one way. For example, anyone with mobility impairments who cannot use a mouse or touchpad can  navigate via keyboard or voice command programs.  

  • Understandable 

Everything provided on the app should be understandable. The navigation menu and interactive buttons should do exactly what they should do. Any occurring error should be followed by the messaging on how to fix the error.

  • Robust

The latest in hardware and assistive technology is used to help ensure the content continues to work without breaking.

WCAG defines how to make web content accessible for those living with a disability. For those responsible for providing the apps, Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) delivers a benchmark for accessible-friendly content.

It’s also worth looking at ADA compliance for mobile apps. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written prior to mobiles´ existence. Still, mobile applications must adhere to the guidance set by the act too.

5 Tips to Design an Accessible App

To ensure a mobile application is designed with accessibility in mind, several design tips can benefit the app’s success. 

Make sure the content is perceivable for everyone

When it comes to the mobile accessibility checklist, one of the top tips is making sure it’s perceivable. Remember the POUR acronym of key principles for accessibility? 

Content needs to be perceivable regardless of the individual’s disability. Consider font type and sizes, colors used, and how adaptive the content is when engaging with the content.

Optimize the app’s color scheme for accessibility

While color schemes are essential for branding, it’s crucial to offer a mobile app that won’t put the user at a disadvantage. For example, some may be colorblind and not see hyperlinked text or other content sections highlighted through color.

When it comes to app design, consider carefully what colors are used and how these may perform for those with visual impairments.

Use labels for screen readers to understand the content

When improving accessibility for apps, it’s beneficial to consider the different characteristics of disabilities — as we’ve mentioned previously in the article.

Labels are useful for incorporating into the UX design to help those who use screen readers to engage with the content. These content labels are ideal for people who can’t see imagery and therefore need to hear a description of what they should be seeing. 

Optimize all video and audible content

As an app, every feature should be optimized to cater to the individual in question. Users should have the option to switch audio into transcripts or turn on video captions.

There is plenty of software out there that can help with optimizing content in this manner. You’ve also got the benefit of adding plugins that can help automatically transcribe or caption content. 

Follow accessibility guidelines

Apple and Android both have their own accessibility guidelines for developing apps. While WCAG and ADA are official resources for accessible guidance, utilizing everything you have helps your app stand out, so consider recommendations from these operating systems too.

Mobile App Accessibility Testing

Once the design has been worked through, the most important part of the development process is app accessibility testing. Accessibility testing for mobile apps is crucial because it contributes to the general user experience.

Conducting accessibility app testing helps the mobile app achieve full compliance with the accessibility principles set. There are a few helpful tools and software worth mentioning that are useful for this part of the development process.


This rich tool helps to audit an iOS app on a device. It can be added to any existing projects to identify a wealth of issues and fixes that need making the app  more user-friendly. Those issues include identifying missing accessibility labels to swapping colors for more accessible-friendly backgrounds.

Google Scanner for A11y

Abbreviated as GSCX, this developer assistant is useful for sitting in an iOS app’s development process and scanning it for any issues. This scanning is performed even before the developer has the opportunity to write a test. This built-in software is compatible with other existing plugins for adding a developer’s own checks.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear enough through recent statistics on web and app accessibility that improving the accessibility of content is essential in this modern age. With such a vast demographic having a disability of some kind, it pays to invest in accessible-friendly functions and design for your future mobile app.

With app accessibility guidelines readily available through ADA and WCAG, there’s no excuse not to implement the accessibility principle within all digital products moving forward. After all, it’s important to cater to everyone when designing an app rather than just to the majority.

Vladyslav Pobyva


September 29, 2022



October 1, 2022

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