Premise to Mobile Accessibility:
Globally today there is a lot of sensitization and awareness for accessibility in the digital solutions that are engineered and physical products and spaces that are built. While this is encouraging and standards and compliances are being accepted globally, there wasn’t a lot of specific focus on mobile accessibility for a long time. Engineering for mobile accessibility largely relied on web application accessibility standards. However, this has changed in the last year, thanks to the revision in WCAG, which is now available as WCAG 2.1, since June 2018. Of the several success criteria that this recent version recommends, one set primarily focuses on mobile accessibility. Why is this important now than ever before?
We have always been aware that close to 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability or another. Specific to mobile, a recent study of close to five hundred Android applications, shows us that 95% of them have accessibility violations, 98% have potential violations and 66% have warnings. This is a significant number that cannot be ignored. Also most have issues around the common accessibility issues at the GUI level or one layer beneath at the semantic level. Issues herein largely include, focus related problems, missing element descriptions, text to color ratios, spacing between elements, font and element sizes. These are all easy to fix accessibility issues, which when taken care of, improve the accessibility scores, quite significantly.
The New Success Criteria in WCAG 2.1
Looking at the core success criteria in WCAG 2.1 specific to mobile accessibility, it is largely around screen orientation and input modalities. Criteria around pointer gestures, pointer cancellation, label in name, motion actuation and support for varied orientations have been introduced keeping mobile accessibility in mind. Herein all kinds of impairments have been taken into consideration to ensure the mobile application is accessible in all scenarios.
Pointer gestures for example talks about how just swipe or pinch actions should not be the only ways to perform specific actions. Pointer cancellation deals with how pointers should be cancellable once invoked. Label in name, is a very easy to implement criteria to ensure the visual text label matches the programmatic ARIA label, making it easy for screen reader users to perceive what’s on the application. As much sophistication and flexibility specific motion actions bring in, it is important to engineer them such that users can disable them when needed and the same functionality is achievable even when they are disabled. This is similar to ensuring the entire application is accessibility via keyboard only access. The criteria also talks about the need to ensure the application is equally visible and accessible on both portrait and landscape modes.
Automation in Accessibility Engineering
Clearly as new success criteria evolve, design and engineering teams need to be savvy and up to date to implement them in the apps they develop, even if it means re-engineering them. And to be able to do these, newer assistive tools become important. For example, deep learning based speech recognition tools are helping mobile accessibility engineering efforts significantly. It is a combination of new success criteria and such tools that have together made mobile accessibility a reality today.
Additionally, thanks to evolving technology test automation in accessibility is possible today than in the past. This has been a very human centric space in engineering requiring manual efforts especially on the quality front. We at QA InfoTech have been able to leverage AI, machine learning, open APIs such as openCV to be able to automate complex areas. Services providers will have to continue to build an edge to be able to test for domains that are increasingly leveraging the latest in technology – for example this blog talks about digital accessibility in the travel domain. QA WCAT is a tool that we have developed in-house, to use for our clients, to gauge accessibility implementation maturity, more reliably than current market tools such as Axe and Wave.
We had a good webinar recently covering all of the above with examples and demos – the full recording from the session is available on our webinars page (visit the page for this, other past and upcoming webinars) and also here.