AccessGA Newsletter Aug/Sept 2015
AccessGA logo: Georgia's Accessible ICT Initiative

Mobile Access for All

People now spend more time online using mobile devices than desktop computers. As of July, 2015, the amount of time people spent online in the United States using mobile devices was estimated to be 51% compared to 42% for desktop users, according to Smart Insights. These statistics closely mirror trends taking place within Georgia state agencies as well. According to Nikhil Deshpande, Director, Interactive Services with Georgia Technology Authority (GTA), analytics indicate that upwards of 40 to 60% of some state agency websites are being accessed using mobile devices. The combination of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems comprise more than 96% of the operating systems used on all mobile devices today.
The mobile industry has made tremendous strides in providing greater access, not only to the general population, but also to individuals with disabilities. Realizing the importance of mobile access for everyone, Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) has taken the initiative of testing several state agency websites using various mobile devices that have been voluntarily donated by GTA employees and individuals within the community.  


What Is Mobile Accessibility?

A mobile device is a generic term used to refer to a variety of devices that allow people to access data and information from wherever they are. This includes cell phones, as well as portable devices. Mobile accessibility allows people with disabilities to use a mobile device, websites, and applications effectively with the equivalent ease of use of people without disabilities.
As touchscreen displays on mobile devices grew in popularity in the mid-2000’s, people with disabilities, specifically people with visual impairments, were justifiably concerned. The lack of robust screen reader programs, diminutive screen sizes, and the complete absence of tactual discrimination with all-glass displays were just some of the concerns that arose as mobile devices hit the market.

Comparing Apples to Androids

In June of 2009, Apple changed the accessible smartphone market forever when they introduced the iPhone 3GS and iOS Version 3. This early generation iPhone included VoiceOver, a robust, built-in screen reader that is available with every iOS device on the market today including the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and iPad Mini. VoiceOver is gesture-based, which means that a variety of gestures and taps will allow someone with no vision to still benefit from all the features of the device. Apple also began introducing a number of other accessibility options including screen magnification, color settings, vibration alerts and switch control. The level of accessibility that Apple has ‘baked” into’ their iOS devices has become the gold standard in the industry, and the preferred operating system among people with disabilities. The following link provides a demonstration of some of the powerful accessibility features and settings within iOS devices. 

View Video by AMAC Tools for Life
AT Specialist Martha Rust

Screenshot of iOS accessibility settings

Google’s Android operating system, currently the most popular mobile operating system in the world, has also made tremendous strides toward greater accessibility for people with disabilities in recent years. Android’s built-in screen reader, TalkBack, is also gesture-based, similar to VoiceOver on the iOS. However, Android’s open source architecture with its multiple versions on the market, and more than 18,000 distinct Android devices in circulation, according to TNW News, means that a high level of fragmentation and lack of transferability from one device to another exists. Apple has been accused of being overly controlling and restrictive with its closed architecture. However, the upswing to Apple’s self-contained ecosystem is a level of predictability and stability that is not available with most Android devices. This is one of the reasons why Apple products have become so popular among people with disabilities. Because of the inherent fragmentation of Android-based devices, testing for accessibility from one device to another becomes more challenging. Although there is no single Android-based smartphone that can emulate the experience of users with disabilities accessing websites and applications using such a broad landscape of Android devices, the purest, and most updated Android experience, is achieved using Google’s Nexus phone running the latest version of stock Android.  


The Overlap between Web Accessibility and Mobile Accessibility

Many of the same considerations to make websites accessible for people with disabilities on the desktop can also be applied to mobile web content, mobile web apps, native apps, and hybrid apps using web components inside native apps. These include aspects such as color, contrast, headings that are applied structurally rather than stylistically, keyboard access, and the ability to increase the viewable area without loss of content. For additional information on mobile accessibility, visit W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) related to Mobile Accessibility


What Does the Department of Justice Have to Say About Mobile Accessibility?

In several high profile settlements, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has required both web and mobile applications to be accessible by companies and educational institutions including Carnival Cruise Ships, EdX, Harvard and MIT. For additional information, read Digital Accessibility Legal Update (Summer 2015) The DOJ is requiring that website, platform and mobile applications conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA, a set of internationally recognized guidelines for making web content accessible to users with disabilities.


Corporate America Is Sitting Up and Taking Notice

More than just the right thing to do, as well as the legal thing to do, ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities is also the profitable thing to do. People with disabilities represent close to 19% of the U.S. population, a substantial number by any metrics. Silicon Valley is sitting up and taking notice. Companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Dropbox, Yahoo and LinkedIn are working closely with disability advocates and academic institutions through the Teaching Accessibility Initiative. This project seeks to boost accessibility in tech by having engineers, designers and researchers think and build more inclusively. This initiative’s objective is bringing industry, academia and advocacy together “to create models for teaching and training students of technology to create accessible experiences.”

The reach and impact of accessible applications and devices and their level of importance throughout our activities of daily living will continue to grow. At some point in our lives, most of us will experience one or more disabilities. As we age, our senses and cognition such as vision, hearing and memory are often compromised. Creating software and hardware solutions that incorporate universal design and accessibility from the ground up allows us all the level of access, independence and dignity throughout our lives.
AccessGA, Georgia’s Accessible ICT Initiative, is a program of the State of Georgia ADA Coordinator's Office, AMAC Accessibility Solutions and Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Georgia Technology Authority's GeorgiaGov Interactive.