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Asked to Make Your iOS App Accessible to Blind People? There’s a Plan for that!

May 14, 2016 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Are you a developer who has been asked to make your iOS app accessible to blind people using Apple’s built-in VoiceOver screen reader? Are you uncertain how to respond, why you should care or where you can go to get started? I hope to demystify these questions and encourage you to create and improve your product in ways that empower and include all your customers, even those who can’t see the screens of their smart phones and tablets.

How should I respond to a request for VoiceOver accessibility in my app?

However you choose to respond, I would encourage you not to simply ignore the request. As a professional, you expect a timely response to communications you initiate, so please afford your blind customers that same courtesy when approached. Please consider the following ideas for communicating with users regarding accessibility requests:

  1. Respond to the request right away informing the customer you have received it and you will take steps to follow up promptly.
  2. If you have a bug-tracking or case management system, create a ticket and escalate it as needed in order to get an answer.
  3. If you do not possess the authority to make this strategic decision, please work with your company’s owner or executive leadership to urge them in the right direction. If you do have the necessary authority, please read on for information on how you can open your doors to your blind customers.
  4. If your business has decided to be inclusive to blind people, please respond affirmatively to your customer, utilize the resources provided here and elsewhere online and start working actively with the connected, online blind community.
  5. Regardless of the outcome, please remember to follow up with your customer by providing updates as you are able to release information to the public.

Why should I care?

There are at least four reasons why you should incorporate accessibility into your apps:

  • Accessibility is simply the right thing to do. Would you create an app designed to categorically exclude women, African-Americans, Chinese or any other group of people? If not, then why would you want to exclude blind people or anyone else with a disability? The answer to the accessibility question determines whether or not everyone, including people with disabilities, will be afforded the opportunity to learn, work, enjoy leisure activities or otherwise participate in the benefits your app offers.
  • There is a business case for accessibility.
  • Accessibility can be easy, fun and interesting. In 2015, the White House and several other U.S. government agencies sponsored a hackathon demonstrating and discussing techniques for improving the accessibility of several forms of technology.
  • Accessibility is the law of the land in many parts of the world. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), and numerous other lesser-known laws require accessibility and full inclusion of people with disabilities in activities, education, employment, products, programs and services offered to the public at large. Similar laws are on the books in many other nations. Failure to empower people with disabilities to use your app may result in complaints, lawsuits, loss of business, negative publicity and a poor reputation.

Where can I go to learn more about iOS accessibility and get started with developing my apps in an inclusive manner?

Apple provides an excellent overview of all the accessibility features available on its iOS platform. The Applevis online community hosts Information For Developers On How to Build Accessible iOS and Mac Apps. Finally, a comprehensive, systematic plan has been published to aid developers and others in beta testing and evaluating the accessibility of iOS apps with VoiceOver.

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