Generally, users expect an app or a website to be easy to use, to meet their expectations and allow them to perform necessary tasks - or else they will reject the product. But what may seem useful and simple for some, for a person with different needs - such as someone who is blind or deaf - may not be the most adequate product. It’s our duty as programmers to see to the needs of diverse groups of people, including those mentioned above. However, how do you go about building an app or a website that takes into consideration special needs?
The first step is to clarify the needs you want to address. There are many types of special needs, but the most common can be grouped into 5 categories:
- Visual - people who are blind, daltonic or who see poorly
- Physical - people who have a physical impediment or limited motor skills, such as hand tremors o muscular atrophy
- Cognitive - people who have learning disabilities or memory-related issues
- Reading - people who have trouble reading, such as dyslexics
- Hearing - people who are deaf or have difficulty hearing
Once the needs are defined, you can move on to the next step: addressing them. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) stipulate the different requirements an app or site must meet to be considered accessible. This guide is organized into various sections which include the following:
- Text alternatives for any kind of content that is not text
- Alternatives for time-based media, such as videos and their corresponding transcriptions
- Content that can be presented in different ways without losing information; for example, avoid using instructions based on color or shapes.
- Avoid content that can trigger epileptic seizures or any other adverse physical reaction
- Content that can be accessed using other methods apart from a keyboard
Each one of these sections comprises a set of rules that must be followed for an application to be considered accessible. In addition, they include different levels of compliance depending on how complicated it is to adhere to them.
After going over these stipulations, it might seem difficult or costly for an app to fulfill them. But that’s not necessarily true, as long as the WCAG requirements are considered from the very beginning of the design. It’s normal to be apprehensive about missing or forgetting some elements, but there are online tools that help detect vulnerabilities. When it comes to Web, WAVE is a tool that scans the site and reports any accessibilities flaws so the programmer can correct them. For mobile applications, Android Studio has a feature that reviews the code and reports any accessibility problems; thanks to these tools, errors can be fixed from the moment code writing begins and not something left to tackle at the end of the project.
It’s important to remember that complying with accessibility guidelines does not only lead to better user experience but it also helps reach a broader market and comply with existing legislation. As programmers, we have the duty to make sure the needs of different populations are met and to keep the best interest of every single one of our product’s users in mind.