App Development

How to Test Mobile App Accessibility: Part 1

A mobile app for public transportation that is technically accessible to all riders might still be unusable, especially for people with disabilities using assistive technology. This is where the Americans with Disabilities Act comes in.

In September 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. These standards state that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. The ADA differs from Section 508 regulations, which are an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and apply to all information technology, including computer hardware, software and documentation. The ADA standards apply to commercial and public entities that have “places of public accommodation”, which includes the internet.

Accessibility testing is a subset of usability testing, and it is performed to ensure that a mobile application is ADA compliant and usable by people with disabilities like hearing, color blindness, old age and other disadvantaged groups. Accessibility testing is especially critical for mobile applications used to access public transit, as 82% of screen reader users use a mobile device.


4 Critical Tools for ADA Accessibility Compliance Testing

As a lead QA Analyst at moovel NA, I live, breathe and sleep accessibility testing. Below are four critical tools necessary for successful mobile application accessibility testing.

Screen Readers
Screen Readers are the main tools I use for testing and can be time consuming, especially if you are unfamiliar on how to use them. Fortunately, these are built into the device themselves and are used by series of finger gestures. Screen Readers do exactly as the name suggests: they read out loud the items that are highlighted in a predetermined order. For each platform (iOS and Android), the screen readers are similar, yet different. For Android, it will be even more different from manufacturer to manufacturer. What I learned from our ADA tester (more on her later) is that each system pushes the user to one method or another (there are 2 methods to using the screen readers).

iOS- Voiceover
The iOS screen reader is called Voiceover. It can be seen as a little more complicated due to the number of finger gestures used. Voiceover pushes its user to use the swipe through method. Basically, the user is using a finger to swipe through from left-to-right or right-to-left. The screen reader, in the form of cursor, highlights the items and reads them out loud. You can also use the exploratory method with Voiceover.

Android- Talkback
On Android, most manufacturers use Talkback as their screen reader. Some manufacturers have built Talk Assistance, which they wanted to be more like Voiceover. With Talkback, Android pushes users to use the exploratory method. With this method, the user is using their finger as a guide to search for items on the screen. And just like on Voiceover, they can use the swipe through method with Talkback. But I have found that there tends to be a few more issues using that method on android.

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Braille display
The last accessibility testing tool I use is a Braille display. This is used by our ADA tester, who we welcome in the office periodically. The Braille display machine is like a keyboard and is connected to the phone through bluetooth. From there, the ADA tester is able to access the app using Braille display.

In my next blog, I will discuss two methods for testing accessibility that every person in public transit should be familiar with.