On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the Message is a Simple One; Good Design is Accessible Design

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Today is the sixth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD); when people are encouraged to talk, think and learn about digital access and inclusion. Our own message today for everybody involved in designing and developing software for Apple platforms, is a simple one: Make accessible design a core part of your development philosophy and practice - not just because it is the right thing to do, but because accessible design is synonymous with good design.

GAAD was created as a mechanism to reach out to the people who “build, shape, fund and influence technology and its use”; raising awareness of both how and why they should be striving to ensure that technology is accessible to all its potential users.

It seems fitting that GAAD coincides this year with when our community is [in the process of choosing the newest inductees into the AppleVis iOS App Hall of Fame.

Now also in its sixth year, the AppleVis iOS App Hall of Fame is one of the ways in which the AppleVis community seeks to recognize and showcase developers of accessible iOS applications. Apps in the Hall of Fame can be liberating; empowering; life-changing; provide access to information that sighted users take for granted; or, in some cases, they can just be good fun! In short, the iOS App Hall of Fame represents the best of the best in accessible iOS applications, as decided by the AppleVis community.

When reviewing the inductees into the Hall of Fame and those who have been shortlisted over the past six years, it's extremely pleasing to see how many are not specifically for blind or low vision users.

It's a definition that's not without some issues, but for the purpose of this article we can think of these as "mainstream" apps. Mainstream in that they were not developed for a specific group of users.

Without exception, the mainstream apps inducted or shortlisted for the Hall of Fame combine great design and function with outstanding use of iOS accessibility features.

An excellent example amongst the current Hall of Fame inductees of where accessible design is synonymous with good design is Twitteriffic. It's an app that is widely considered to be amongst the very best in its class. It's also an app where the developer's long-term commitment to VoiceOver support makes it impossible to distinguish accessible design from good design. The two are simply one and the same.

When used with VoiceOver, the user experience of Twitteriffic doesn't feel like anything has been sacrificed in making the app accessible; and you are likely to feel that your use of the app is equal to that of any other user.

Further examples of iOS and macOS applications where best in class design and function fit seamlessly with outstanding accessibility can be found with 1Password on iOS and macOS, the range of audio tools for the Mac from Rogue Amoeba, and Workflow for iOS. In the case of the latter, the developer's outstanding implementation of VoiceOver support earned them an Apple Design Award in 2015, a prestigious award for the mobile and desktop apps which raise the bar in design, technology and innovation. Less than two years later, Apple considered Workflow so good that it acquired the app and recruited its creators.

We would suggest that these applications - along with the many more that could be mentioned - demonstrate how a commitment by their respective developers to fair and equal access has been to the benefit of all users, not just those who directly benefit.

Such a commitment requires and encourages developers to look at their applications from perspectives they might otherwise not consider; it requires and encourages them to accept as a core part of their design philosophy that not all use cases are the same. We believe that the result of this is better designed software for all users and all use cases.

Therefor, if you are a developer reading this post, we want to encourage you not to draw a distinction between good design and accessible design; to not think of accessible design as something which may only benefit some users of your software.

We have given you examples above off applications which combine best in class design and function with outstanding accessibility. These are apps which rate high in downloads and earn their developers awards.

If you are developing for an Apple platform, Apple has already given you the guidance and tools to ensure that your application is accessible; and there are passionate users of Apple products who will welcome and applaud your time and effort spent ensuring that they have fair and equal access to your software.

If you are an end user reading this post - wishing that there were more accessible applications - then we want to encourage you to reach out to developers. Point them towards this post; direct them to Apple's resources for designing accessible applications; tell them how their software could be made accessible; and encourage them to do just that.

In his post about why accessibility isn't just another feature, Michael Hansen offers the following tips for reporting accessibility issues to developers:

  • Explain what VoiceOver is, and how it provides you access to your iOS device or Mac computer.
  • Explain, in as much detail as you are able, the issues you're experiencing with the app. Articulating accessibility issues can be difficult--particularly if you don't know what the problem is--but the more information you can provide a developer, the more likely it is that they'll be able to identify and fix the issue. If you feel so inclined, consider recording and including an audio demonstration of the problem.
  • Tell the developer that while people who don't use VoiceOver might consider accessibility support something "nice to have," to you VoiceOver support means the difference between whether you can use an app or not. At its core, supporting VoiceOver means the difference between whether you have equal access to an app/service or not.
  • Consider including links to resources for more information about what VoiceOver is and how to implement support on the developer end. Apple's guides, "Understanding Accessibility on iOS" and “Accessibility on macOS ”, are great places to start.
  • Regardless of what you say in your e-mail, it's absolutely essential that you be polite. Developers are people too, and it is very likely that taking an aggressive/insulting approach will only result in your e-mail being ignored. Don't be afraid to call accessibility failures what they are ("VoiceOver does not see any elements on the screen; this means that I am absolutely unable to use your app at all, and thus I do not have the same equal access that sighted users enjoy"), but stay away from character attacks and other derogatory comments. The Golden Rule--"treat others as you would want to be treated"--applies here.

By reaching out to developers and by following the above advice, each of us can help to raise awareness of accessibility; of why it matters; and if how good design is accessible design.

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