UX for all: Accessible app design for diverse users

Ready to build an inclusive and accessible app? Learn about the benefits of building an app for everyone.
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Mobile apps are an indispensable part of our daily lives. They connect us, inform us, and entertain us. But for those of us with disabilities, some apps can be frustrating or even unusable due to accessibility barriers. We must recognize that accessibility in app design isn’t just about functionality and UX digital experience design—it’s about creating a welcoming, productive space for everyone and meeting legal standards such as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and other international regulations.

Developing accessible apps not only reflects a commitment to ethical design but also offers significant benefits:

  • Reaching a wider audience: Accessible apps open doors to a vast and diverse user base, increasing your potential reach and market share.
  • Enhanced user experience: When everyone can navigate and interact with your app seamlessly, it increases user satisfaction and engagement.
  • Positive brand reputation: Demonstrating inclusivity through accessible design fosters brand loyalty and positions your company as a leader in responsible innovation.

The proof is in the pudding. See how Tallwave’s digital product design services team helped disrupt the status quo with an app made for those on the move.

Why inclusive app design matters now more than ever

While inclusive and accessible design is often discussed in the context of providing greater access for people with disabilities, it’s a high tide that raises all ships. Consider the curb cut, one of the most iconic physical examples of accessible design. When the first official curb cut was installed at an intersection on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, in 1972, a move that sparked the installation of hundreds of thousands more curb cuts all across the country, sidewalks became more accessible for people in wheelchairs. But they also became more accessible to parents with strollers, runners, kids on skateboards, and people wheeling loads, from workers with dollies and hand carts to business travelers with luggage. This application of accessible design didn’t just improve the experience of people with disabilities—it improved the experience for everyone. This phenomenon became known as the “curb cut effect,” and it applies as much to digital design as it does physical design.

With so many benefits to ethical and inclusive design for everyone, app accessibility standards are no longer a nicety but a core expectation for users with and without disabilities. As such, standards and guidelines are in place to drive designers toward accessibility.

The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the foundation for all accessibility standards. These guidelines apply to web pages and mobile applications, encompassing both native and hybrid app formats. WCAG provides principles, guidelines, and success criteria to ensure web and app platforms are accessible to users with diverse disabilities. This promotes inclusion and prevents discrimination in daily online experiences. 

The WCAG is part of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This initiative reflects a commitment to removing barriers for users with disabilities, ensuring they can navigate websites and interact with mobile apps as seamlessly as everyone else. With the introduction of WCAG 3.0 in May 2024, the guidelines are continuously evolving to address emerging technologies and more nuanced accessibility needs.

UX for accessibility: Creating user-friendly app experiences

The foundation of accessible app design lies in understanding the needs of diverse users. According to the CDC, up to 1 in 4 adults in the United States (more than 61 million people) has a disability. This includes people with visual impairments (4.8% of U.S. adults), hearing impairments (6.1% of U.S. adults), cognitive disabilities (12.8% of U.S. adults), motor limitations (12.1% of U.S. adults), and more. 

By conducting user research that involves people with disabilities and analyzing user data, you can identify potential challenges they face when interacting with apps. You’ll want to consider the kinds of assistive technologies your user base relies on to make the mobile app experience possible. These include refreshable braille displays for silent access to content, eye-tracking systems for navigation and typing, and sip-and-puff devices for controlling functions. Adaptive devices like specialized keyboards and styluses are often used by individuals with motor limitations to navigate mobile apps.

Leveraging user personas representing individuals with disabilities and conducting usability testing with diverse groups can provide valuable insights into making your app more accessible. Here are some basic considerations when incorporating UX for accessibility and accommodating assistive technologies in your app design:

Visual impairments 

  • Employ high color contrast between text and background to ensure readability.
  • Ensure compatibility with screen reader software for users who rely on audio cues.
  • Provide clear and concise text alternatives for all images (alt text).

Hearing impairments

  • Offer captions and transcripts for all video and audio content.
  • Allow users to adjust audio volume levels within the app.
  • Consider visual alerts alongside sound notifications.

Cognitive disabilities 

  • Use simple and straightforward language that’s easy to understand.
  • Implement clear and predictable layouts with consistent navigation patterns.
  • Offer multiple ways to complete tasks, catering to different user preferences and needs.

Motor limitations

  • Design touch-friendly interfaces with large, well-spaced buttons and icons.
  • Integrate voice control options for users who have difficulty interacting with the screen.
  • Ensure smooth keyboard navigation for users who rely on assistive technologies.

Beyond UX design: Content strategy for accessibility and inclusivity

The words and content within your app play a vital role in accessibility. Following guidelines like those provided by the A11Y Project and WCAG ensures that your content is accessible to everyone. Specifically, clarity and word choices matter. Accessible content is written clearly and concisely, avoiding jargon and complex sentence structures. Aim for a reading level that caters to a broad audience, usually between a 6th- and 8th-grade reading level.

Other important considerations for creating accessible content in apps include:

  • Plain language is powerful: Use everyday language that’s easy to understand. Avoid technical terms or industry jargon that may be unfamiliar to some users.
  • Alt text paints a picture: Don’t leave screen reader users out! Always include concise descriptions of images using alt text. Include details about the function the image serves on the page as well. Is it decorative? Is it an image of a product? 
  • Captions and transcripts for everyone: Make multimedia content accessible by providing captions for videos and transcripts for audio content.

Building brand loyalty: The positive impact of inclusive app design

Investing in accessibility and inclusive app design isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a smart business decision. When users can interact with your app easily, they’re more likely to spend time within the platform, leading to higher engagement and increased retention. Businesses prioritizing accessibility see higher customer satisfaction and loyalty, giving them a competitive edge. Additionally, accessible apps remove barriers for a significant portion of the population, allowing you to tap into a previously untapped market segment.

Building inclusive and accessible apps: A journey, not a destination

By prioritizing accessibility, you’re creating an app experience that welcomes everyone. This opens doors to new users, strengthens your brand reputation, and sets you apart from the competition.

Ready to build an inclusive and accessible app or improve accessibility within an existing app? At Tallwave, we understand the power of design that works for everyone. Our team of experts specializes in user experience (UX), accessibility audits, and inclusive content strategy. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you create a user-friendly and accessible app that meets all industry standards.

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