iOS Accessibility Series (Part 1)
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Last Updated on October 8, 2023 by Deya Eldeen

iOS accessibility, from a developer’s point of view, refers to the set of tools, technologies, and guidelines provided by Apple to ensure that iOS applications are usable and inclusive for people with disabilities, as a developer, incorporating accessibility features into your iOS app involves considering the diverse needs of users with visual, auditory, motor, cognitive, and any other impairments. (see table below for a list of most common impairments and disabilities)

Many developers and businesses do not prioritize making their applications accessible for several reasons, first, there is often a lack of awareness about the significance of accessibility and the benefits it brings to a broader user base, second, some developers perceive accessibility implementation as a complex and time-consuming task, leading them to prioritize other features instead, there are also other concerns about additional costs, limited resources, the assumption that their target audience does not include people with disabilities can deter developers from investing in accessibility.

Legal enforcement of accessibility regulations may be weak or inconsistent in some regions, reducing the incentive to comply, moreover, the emphasis on aesthetics over accessibility, inadequate training on accessibility best practices, and resistance to change can further hinder the adoption of accessible design, despite these challenges, raising awareness and promoting the positive impact of accessibility remain crucial in encouraging developers to make their applications inclusive and accessible to all users.

Several countries have enacted laws and regulations to enforce digital accessibility. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 outline accessibility requirements for websites, applications, and other digital content provided by federal agencies and entities receiving federal funding.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are widely recognized as the global standard for web accessibility, these guidelines provide specific criteria for making digital content accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Failure to comply with accessibility regulations and standards can lead to legal consequences. Companies and organizations that do not provide accessible digital content may face complaints, lawsuits, or enforcement actions by individuals, advocacy groups, or government agencies.

Penalties can include fines, legal fees, court orders to rectify accessibility issues, and reputational damage.

Several high-profile cases have set important precedents for digital accessibility enforcement, resulting in settlements or court rulings against companies that were found to have inaccessible websites or applications, these cases highlight the significance of accessibility and the legal ramifications of non-compliance.

Numerous prominent cases have established crucial precedents for enforcing digital accessibility, leading to settlements or court rulings against companies with inaccessible websites or applications. Notably, Domino’s Pizza, Netflix, and Target faced legal issues related to the lack of accessible applications for individuals with disabilities. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a blind plaintiff, stating that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps. Netflix settled with the National Association of the Deaf, agreeing to make its streaming content accessible with closed captions. Similarly, Target settled with the National Federation of the Blind, committing to enhance its website’s accessibility.

These cases emphasize the significance of digital accessibility and the legal consequences for non-compliance, prompting businesses to increasingly prioritize accessibility for a more inclusive online environment.

Main types of disabilities and impairments:

VisualUsers with visual impairments may have a partial or complete loss of vision. They rely on assistive technologies like VoiceOver to navigate the app using spoken feedback. Developers must ensure that UI elements have meaningful labels, provide appropriate descriptions, and support dynamic text sizes for better readability. Additionally, maintaining proper contrast and avoiding reliance on color-only cues is crucial to aid users with low vision.

When creating an accessible app, developers should consider various visual impairments, such as blindness, low vision, color blindness, glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, nystagmus, diabetic retinopathy, hemianopia, and photophobia.

To accommodate users with these conditions, designers should prioritize VoiceOver support, dynamic text sizing, high contrast options, and clear layouts. Regular accessibility testing with assistive technologies ensures the app meets the needs of all users, providing an inclusive experience for those with visual challenges.
AuditoryUsers with auditory impairments experience hearing loss, which can range from mild to profound. Closed captioning and subtitles are essential for video or audio content to make it accessible to this audience. Developers should also consider providing visual or haptic feedback for important alerts or notifications.
MotorUsers with motor impairments may have difficulty with precise touch gestures or using physical buttons. To accommodate these users, developers should ensure that app elements are well-spaced and have an appropriate touch target size. Supporting alternative input methods like switch control and voice commands can also enhance accessibility for users with motor challenges.
CognitiveUsers with cognitive impairments may face challenges with memory, attention, and problem-solving. To cater to this audience, developers should strive for simplicity and clarity in the app’s user interface. Avoiding complex navigation flows and providing clear instructions can make the app more user-friendly for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
SpeechUsers with speech impairments may have difficulty communicating through traditional speech. Developers can consider integrating communication tools or support for alternative input methods like text-to-speech or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) into their apps.
Situational disabilitiesUsers in certain situations, such as noisy environments or poor lighting conditions, may benefit from accessibility features like closed captioning or larger text sizes.

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