App Accessibility Checklist for Low Vision


About a month ago, my friend recommended an application to download on my phone. I wasn’t sure if they had thought about this, but there are many apps, even popular ones, that are inaccessible to people with low vision or photosensitivity. Right as I was about to ask, my friend said “don’t worry, the text can be enlarged to your size and there’s no strobes.” I was happy that not only my friend had checked for these things, but that the app developers had thought ahead of time and made their app accessible to people with low vision and photosensitivity.

Too many times, accessibility is considered a last minute thing to add to an application. With so many people identified as having a disability, app developers should be more aware of how important it is to consider diverse users when developing an application. Here are seven accessibility settings I check for when downloading an application, either on my Android phone or iPad. While this is targeted towards users with a disability, this also helps seniors and adults who simply forgot their reading glasses.

Can text be enlarged?

While some applications support the operating system’s default text settings, there are other apps that use their own fonts. Check that these fonts can be enlarged to a legible size- typically, I use a size 24 font, though bigger is almost always better. If there are different font style options, that is awesome too- people with certain print disabilities benefit immensely from weighted fonts like Comic Sans.

Can screen readers be used?

Many users use a tool like VoiceOver (Apple) or TalkBack (Android) in order to access text. Adding alt text image descriptions is also important so the user isn’t left guessing what was in the picture. If the image is purely decorative, write “null” or “decoration.” And please, have a skip navigation option, so the screen reader isn’t reading through unnecessary information.

Is everything displayed?

When the font is enlarged, make sure that all text, as well as buttons, are displayed on the screen in a logical manner. Some apps have text run off the screen, or do not enlarge buttons, which makes it impossible to use the app.

Is there sufficient contrast?

Is it easy to read the text on the screen? Having options to change the colors of the background or other buttons can be helpful in ensuring that users are able to see an app clearly. Having a night mode with a dark color scheme also can help reduce glare.

Are there strobe or flashing effects?

I have used a couple of applications that had random strobe or flashing light effects, or that used strobe notifications that could not be disabled. I even had a phone for about an hour that was a giant strobing mess. These apps were uninstalled immediately, and the strobing phone was returned as well. While a light at the frequency of a car blinker is fine, do not use strobe or flashing light effects, especially in red/blue colors, and give the user no way to disable them. For more information on who can be harmed by these effects, read this.

Can I use my own keyboard?

Some applications prevent the user from accessing a third party keyboard, or even the speech-to-text option. Allow users to be able to use any keyboard for maximum compatibility.

Do I have to think about using this?

If the user has to remember a complex series of steps to take because of accessibility settings being enabled, then the app isn’t worth using. One of the main design principles is that if the user has to think while using a product, then the designer has failed. Make sure users don’t have to jump through too many hoops.

Accessibility is very important to me, and I am always grateful when developers keep users like me in mind. While there are so many other disability areas to remember, I hope developers will continue to remember those of us with low vision and photosensitivity when creating apps.

Colored Paper and the Readability of Text

On my seventeenth birthday, I presented at a science fair affiliated with my school district about my research on how the color of paper can affect the readability of the text on the paper.  This was the first time I really investigated how important contrast is when creating accessible documents, and I was able to determine the colors of paper I preferred for my assignments.  When I presented this research to the science fair judges, I received an unexpected surprise- three out of the five judges were colorblind!  Globally, one in twelve men and one in two hundred women are colorblind, and the odds of encountering two men and one women who are colorblind in a room seemed to be one in a million.  My friends and family found this experience absolutely hilarious, and told me that it would be a great story to tell if I ever presented my research again, though I wasn’t very amused.

My interest in this topic began in 2013, when I visited a neuro-opthalmologist at a large medical center who showed me an eye chart with different colored backgrounds.  They explained that people tend to see better on the eye chart with colored backgrounds because the colors helped reduce eye fatigue (from the white glare of the normal eye chart) and it was easier for the eyes to focus.  I was fascinated by this, and chose to do more research on it for my science fair project.  Over the years, I have learned even more about creating accessible materials and how important contrast is, and will be sharing some of the practical applications of my research below.

What colors work best

Light yellow and light blue were found to be the paper colors that were the easiest to read off of.  It could easily be read in all lighting conditions, and the effectiveness of the colors weren’t diminished if someone wore tinted glasses (like I do).  I have found it is easy to read on these colors for long periods of time, and all colors of my pens and markers show up sharp even on the colored paper.  Blue is best for large amounts of information or reading, while yellow works great for worksheets.

What colors work less well

Neon bright colors, while they do stand out, often contribute to eye fatigue and the eyes may have trouble focusing on the page.  Darker colors, such as those found on conventional construction paper, may also be difficult to read.  The darker backgrounds obscure text and make information difficult to process.

Using colored films

While this wasn’t part of my project, one of my teachers found that I processed information much better when they added a colored film on top of the paper that they were projecting, or when I layered a colored film on top of what I was reading.  Because of the way fluorescent lighting was set up in some classrooms, I found these films difficult to use when the lights above me would reflect on top of the plastic, so I very rarely used them while sitting at my desk.  Now that I am in college though, and most of my classrooms don’t use fluorescent lighting, I have found myself reaching for these films more often when I have to read papers for long periods of time.

Changing white intensity

Since sharp white can be bad for eye fatigue, I have blue light filters on all of my main electronic devices, including my desktop computer, laptop computer, Android phone, and iPad.  I also have a post dedicated to reducing eyestrain with technology.

If I put it on a colored background, does this mean I don’t need large print?

NO!!  If you have low vision, please continue to use your preferred font sizes and image sizes, even if you use a colored paper.  The page color is supposed to make text easier to see, not to add any other difficulties.

Bottom line, the page color can influence the readability of font, and by using light colors, the reader may find it easier to read for long periods of time and not have as much eye fatigue from glare.  Experiment with different papers and figure out which one works best.

Accessibility Settings For Android Phones

Here are settings to enable for Android phones that are running KitKat or higher to help make the devices easier to use. Not all settings are available for all phones, and they may look a little different depending on the phone. All are found in the accessibility menu under system settings.

Magnification gesture

By triple tapping the screen, it can be magnified up to 10x. Users can navigate the screen by dragging two or more fingers across it, and zoom in more by pinching fingers, or zoom out by spreading them apart. You can also triple tap and hold with one finger to get a small magnification window to drag across the screen that will close when you move your finger. This works everywhere but the keyboard and navigation bar.

Large text

Self explanatory. If you need it larger, download an app like Big Font that will increase the system font.   More on making Android accessible with third party apps here.

High contrast text

The system font when displayed is white with a black outline, to make it readable on any background.

Power button exits call

Push the power button to hang up the phone. It’s easier than tapping on the screen to end a call.

Color inversion

Allow for a dark background with light text on all phone displays.  Just turn it off before viewing photos or the camera.

Color correction

Correct the display for users who have deuteranomaly, protanomaly, or tritanomaly.

This may not seem like a lot of features, but the beauty of Android is that there are so many different apps to make the device however you want it to. For more on selecting an Android device, click here.

How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision

The iPad is considered one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 21st century, especially in terms of accessibility.  Personally, I have seen the amazing effects of having an iPad in the educational setting, at both the high school and college level.  It’s also been fantastic for making resources accessible, like digital textbooks.  However, before the iPad can be used by someone with low vision, it must be configured first.  Here are the settings I enable for the iPad/iPhone to help make the device possible to use for those who have low vision. All are found in the accessibility menu under general settings unless otherwise noted.  Altogether, it takes about ten minutes to enable all of the settings listed below

Zoom

Zoom magnifies the entire screen and is great for using apps that have smaller font, such as ones for restaurants. It can be adjusted to window zoom while typing so that the entire screen isn’t distorted. Note that screenshots taken with zoom enabled will not display the zoomed in image, but the whole screen. Zoom can be activated after being turned on in settings by double tapping with three fingers

Magnifier

This is a built in magnifying glass with the device’s camera, and different than using the zoom function. It is activated by triple clicking the home button when enabled. This is super helpful when I am somewhere and can’t see small items.

Display Accommodations

Color Filter- This allows for a tint to allow users with different forms of color blindness to access their devices, but I personally use it to add a background tint to reduce blue light. I have it on a mild intensity and full hue.


Reduce White Point
– This makes whites on the screen less sharp and is extremely helpful for reducing glare. Mine is at 50%

Text

Larger text– Turn on large accessibility sizes and make text even larger! I have it on the largest available which is equivalent to about a size 36 font


Bold text
– Creates larger weighted font that is easier to distinguish

Button shapes

Puts backgrounds on buttons so they are easier to notice.  It can best be described as a subtle, shaded effect with easy to distinguish shapes.  The target area is also large, meaning the buttons are easier to press.

Increase Contrast

I reduce transparency and darken colors to create a high contrast display, a feature that integrates well with the button shapes.  This is not overly noticeable to other people who use my iPad, and I have found it does not have much of an effect with color display in photos- all colors look good.

Reduce motion

I reduce motion to disable animations that can hurt my eyes.  This is tremendously helpful for people who have prisms in their glasses, as fast moving animations can cause vertigo for some.

Accessibility shortcut

By triple clicking the home button, you can edit accessibility settings. I have guided access and magnifier on mine.  Siri is the default accessibility shortcut.  If more than one application is set, then a small menu will be displayed when the home button is triple clicked.

Restrictions

Found in general, this is the parental controls section of the device. While it may seem silly to set your own controls, this eliminates the gif keyboard in the new version of iMessage if you restrict websites for adult content. I recommend putting all of the websites you access often in always allow first.

By enabling these settings, a person with low vision will be able to harness all of the capabilities of the iPad and use it to enhance their ability to use assistive technology.

How to make iPad accessible for low vision