NUX Leeds event – Rebecca Topps: Creating inclusive mobile applications

July 28, 2017 12:42 pm

NUX Leeds event – Rebecca Topps: Creating inclusive mobile applications



Rebecca began her talk by introducing herself as an ‘Accessibility and UX Research Consultant’. She works freelance now and she’s got lots of experience from working at ShopDirect UK alongside designers to help create accessible apps. She stated that “There’s always things to learn when it comes to accessibility.”

So, why should we make our apps inclusive?

Rebecca started by talking about her experience working with a blind lady, who uses a screen reader to help her use apps on a day to day basis and feels that apps are simpler and easier to use than websites. Despite this, she still sometimes struggles with apps. One such negative experience was on the Santander app. It was not easily accessible with a screen reader, therefore she had to phone up every time in order to make a transaction. (RNIB note that Santander, along with apps from NatWest, First Direct and Barclays all present problems for visually impaired users because they do not work well with Voice Over (iOS) or Talkback (Android) so users are unable to complete a number of everyday transactions on the app).

In contrast, the blind lady had a positive experience with Ocado. This is one app she uses a lot to do her grocery shopping, which makes her life easier. Ability net found that Ocado exceeded minimum accessibility requirements in 2013, it looks like they are still doing it). This example case study provides solid evidence on why we should aim to make our apps more accessible to reduce digital exclusion: “Digital inclusion, or rather reducing digital exclusion is about making sure that people have the capability to use the internet to do things that benefit them day to day.” (Gov.uk)

This example case study provides solid evidence on why we should aim to make our apps more accessible to reduce digital exclusion: “Digital inclusion, or rather reducing digital exclusion is about making sure that people have the capability to use the internet to do things that benefit them day to day.” (Gov.uk)

Photo of the speaker at the event

Rebecca Topps: Creating inclusive mobile applications

The Facts

Rebecca went on to explain that “around 81% of adults own a smartphone day to day” and that “around 11.2million people in the UK have some type of disability” and a lot of these owning a smartphone. These disabilities can range from, visual, auditory, motor and cognitive impairments and can either be long term or temporary impairments. Even though we may not realise it, we all experience temporary impairments in our day to day life. Such as glare when using a device in bright sunlight or suffering with a broken wrist, or even a hangover.

Inclusive user testing

Rebecca stated that “If we improve accessibility, it will improve the overall user experience.” To do this it is so important to include users with a range of abilities in user research and testing. However it can be difficult to access participants with a wide range of abilities so instead of waiting until a research project comes up, Rebecca suggested building your own data base of users so that you have a pool of users to select from when a project with requires them. Use all the leads you can to help you build the pool, for example, ask families, friends and colleagues, local disability charities, advertise on social media and work closely with your recruitment team to ensure we are including a mix in the research.

Rebecca emphasised that including a range of disabilities into user testing is a big eye opener, but doesn’t come without its challenges as there are a number of questions we need to ask users and things to bear in mind. These can be: • What device they use

  • What device they use
  • What assistive tech they use
  • What apps they use
  • Location of testing – ease of travelling to the office
  • Technicalities involved around the format of the tasks

During testing it is important to create a relaxed environment whatever the user needs. At a minimum, it needs to be wheelchair accessible and you will have to be prepared to make arrangements and adapt your session to suit the user needs and requirements. This could be things such as using their device or assistive technology, and altering your schedules and environment for the participant.

You may not have access to a UX lab, or it may not be possible to make it suitable for the users you want to see. It’s important to adapt to the user’s needs so ensure that you have software which allows you to be mobile so you can go to them. She talked about some of the software she uses during testing for both recording and seeing the users phone screen including: Silverback, Morae, Reflector and Solstice. She said “Reflector can help to see how users are interacting with the phone and really captures the frustration and empathy and see how difficult it is for the user rather than just recording what’s happening on the screen.” Testing mobile apps

Testing mobile apps

In-build mobile accessibility features give users the option to increase font size on their mobile phone, revert all colours or change the font to high colour contrast

Changing font size and colours

When testing apps, Rebecca shared some examples of accessibility tools or equipment that can be used:

  • Changing font size and colours: Inbuilt mobile accessibility features gives the user the option to increase the font and change the font to high colour contrast. Screen readers tell the user what is on the screen and how to interact with it, thus replicate the UI for those who cannot see it. Screen readers are
  • Screen readers tell the user what is on the screen and how to interact with it, thus replicate the UI for those who cannot see it. Screen readers are in-built into phone accessibility settings. Switch controls allow mobility impaired users to navigate through the mobile device/website.
  • Switch controls allow mobility impaired users to navigate through the mobile device/website.Mobile accessibility guidelines

Mobile accessibility guidelines

Nowadays developers are constantly trying to make apps more accessible and seeking the best accessibility guidelines to help them do this. Rebecca stated that although there is no universal set of accessibility guidelines for mobile applications, there are guidelines to follow including iOS, Android and windows developer guidelines. Rebecca said “The best way to create consistency is to build your own set of mobile accessibility guidelines” and the reason for doing this is to ensure consistency across your team.

Nowadays developers are constantly trying to make apps more accessible and seeking the best accessibility guidelines to help them do this. Rebecca stated that although there is no universal set of accessibility guidelines for mobile applications, there are guidelines to follow including iOS, Android and windows developer guidelines. Rebecca said “The best way to create consistency is to build your own set of mobile accessibility guidelines” and the reason for doing this is to ensure consistency across your team. Which device should we test on? iOS usage has continued to increase, but so has Android. She also went on to say that “Screen reader behaviour is different on different devices” and that’s why it’s important to test on all devices.

Which device should we test on? iOS usage has continued to increase, but so has Android. She also went on to say that “Screen reader behaviour is different on different devices” and that’s why it’s important to test on all devices. Take home message

Take home message

try the different accessibility settings on your phone, include diverse range of users in your research, look at existing guidelines, use free online training courses

Where to start with mobile inclusion

Rebecca discussed a number of reasons why it is important to make mobile apps inclusive and that it is important to test users with a range of abilities. She gave us some suggestions of how to test with users with disabilities and what to bear in mind to ensure the testing runs smoothly. Rebecca concluded by summarising her key points and stating that “Every single one of us can have a small impact on making our digital products inclusive.”