6 Mobile App Considerations For People With Disabilities - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture
08:56 AM

6 Mobile App Considerations For People With Disabilities

Make sure your mobile apps can be used by the 60 million Americans with disabilities. Consider this expert advice for developers.

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The mobile era makes information more readily available. It should do so for everyone, including people with disabilities, yet accessibility is often an afterthought in device design and app development.

"It's a big issue," said Dana Marlowe, principal partner at Accessibility Partners, in an interview. Marlowe's firm and its 12 employees advise corporations and government agencies on IT usability and accessibility issues for people with disabilities. "It's not where it needs to be yet," she added.

There are approximately 60 million people with disabilities in the U.S. alone, according to Marlowe, a number that is growing steadily. (That figure, based on U.S. census data, includes a wide range of disabilities, from blindness and hearing loss, to physical mobility issues, to hidden disabilities such as cognitive impairments.) Marlowe noted that stat makes people with disabilities the largest minority group in the U.S., one that any of us can join at any time, often unexpectedly. She added that the aging baby boomer population underscores the need for usable, accessible IT.

The accessibility of mobile devices and apps is particularly pressing, Marlowe said, because of their rampant popularity. Smartphones are everywhere and tablets aren't far behind. Devices like Apple's iPad and native apps like Facebook now pass the mother-in-law test: Technologies so prevalent that even your mother-in-law uses them. (Marlowe just helped her mother-in-law install the Facebook app on her iPad. My own mother-in-law draws the line with Facebook, but does have an iPad.)

[ Here's another reason inaccessible apps are a big problem: Mobile Accounts For 17% Of All Web Traffic. ]

For the skeptical or downright cynical, consider this: People with disabilities have a combined discretionary income of $220 billion, according to Marlowe. Are they going to spend money with you if your user interface is inaccessible? (Answer: No, they won't.)

You also might not have any choice but to prioritize accessibility, especially if you do business with the federal government. Section 508, an update to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires federal agencies to ensure widespread IT accessibility for both internal development and external procurement. In other words: Don't expect a dime of federal money in your bottom line if you're unwilling to meet accessibility standards.

The iPad-and-Facebook example speaks to a challenge in ensuring accessibility. It's not just one company's responsibility, and can be both a hardware and software issue. Yet while the accessibility of various devices varies, according to Marlowe, more people with disabilities are turning to tablets and other mobile form factors. "People with disabilities are using tablet and other mobile devices because they are increasingly more accessible than some of their more standard hardware counterparts," she said. That shifts some of the accessibility burden to mobile developers.

"[App development] also has to be accessible, and oftentimes accessibility is unfortunately overlooked," Marlowe said. With that mind, she shared six key areas for ensuring widespread accessibility of apps.

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User Rank: Apprentice
8/28/2013 | 2:33:39 AM
re: 6 Mobile App Considerations For People With Disabilities
I am a scientist & techie guy and also live w/ a brain shunt for hydrocephalus (1992 auto accident). Not only have I been a user of technology of the past 15-20 years that arguably much of it is released as "beta," where the user is required to obtain updates and deal with buggy failures, but I also use it to help with my memory problems. When PCs, software, mobile phones, apps, etc. do not function correctly, it is a really bad day. For many others, tech stuff are toys. And for business, it's a nice addition to productivity. But I find many business users still use tech in a limited capacity. And for those who do, they often have support at their company to get it to work correctly.
Outside of my above concerns I have with too much tech released in beta, my other two (2) concerns are: 1) Poor UI or user interface, including, many major websites, software, and apps today. I had a bad experience at EBay last week, and could not easily find the button to contact the seller (or Ebay as well).
2) Backing Up/Syncing cognitive app data. As more of those with cognitive impairment rely on phone apps, the integrity of the entries and data will become increasingly more important. I know the Apple platform is more sophisticated with its cloud sync, but as I'm an Android user I still rely on PC sync for my back-ups. I know cloud sync is the newest hottest thing. But I'm not yet convinced that the methods, UIs, sites, apps and such are secure & cognitively accessible. Case in point, last week I accidently hit the sync button in my calendar app and it instantly wiped away most of my entries.
I've also had my Address Book show up on Facebook. In my view, your Address Book is your phone's most important app, where current Android & Apple OS allow you to input searchable notes and such in entries. Yet there are so many pitfalls in which data can be compromised. And if you're like me and so many others, and live with a chronic illness & disability, you have tons of medical records and such you keep digitally. I keep all of my brain scans in folders on my phone, records, progress notes, lab reports, etc., and when I see my neurosurgeon and other physicians, we typically use my phone (and now my tablet) in reviewing my records. Oh the medical field is sooooo behind on this!
I'd like to create a mobile app for hydrocephalus based in part onan earlier method I patented, and on consults I still provide (worldwide). Hydrocephalus and its care is a worldwide problem, just as cognitive accessibility in tech is a worldwide issue. Solve it once -- and you've solved it for millions of users!
In closing, I contend (without any hard data) that learning disabilities, injury, diseases, and challenges with age related brain changes, poses a larger segment of people with disabilities - than all of the others combined! I would argue the 60M number is actually much higher.
Thanks for the story.
Stephen Dolle
Newport Beach, CA
User Rank: Apprentice
8/23/2013 | 6:03:37 AM
re: 6 Mobile App Considerations For People With Disabilities
Mobile apps are playing a vital role in every sectors. Thus they help us in many ways one such example is shown above. Here are few android apps where it helps the women in many ways. http://www.technogist.com/2013...
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