Researchers at IBM have created a new tool designed to make Apple iOS and Google Android mobile applications more accessible to the elderly and users who are vision- and hearing-impaired. The new Mobile Accessibility Checker is an automated test to help strengthen the accessibility features of mobile applications as they are being built. It is available as a service or software component from IBM.
Mobile Accessibility Checker helps developers identify and correct usability issues early in development to deliver an optimized customer mobile experience. The estimated base of impaired users worldwide is more than 1 billion.
The tool automatically alerts developers to accessibility breaches, such as color contrasting and keyboard navigation and focus, and recommends corrections that adhere to industry standards and government regulations.
"We are constantly evaluating ways to efficiently ensure that any customer, citizen or employee mobile application achieves the highest levels of accessibility and usability," Francis West, IBM’s chief accessibility officer, told eWEEK. "With mobile, the development cycle is much shorter compared to software development that designers and developers ignore, or in most cases, are unaware of basic accessibility conformance requirements - such as color contrast or ensuring they work with screen readers. Mobile Accessibility Checker ensures that accessibility is done right from the start."
West explained that current accessibility tools can only check for one breach element at a time and do not account for individuals with poor vision, so the contrast is not adjusted.
In addition, control spacing, button size and font size are not accounted for in current tools.
As part of the Mobile Accessibility Checker roll out, IBM is collaborating with SSB BART Group, an accessibility software and services organization, to create a new mobile accessibility management platform utilizing Mobile Accessibility Checker.
The SSB BART Accessibility Management Platform for Mobile integrates IBM’s Mobile Accessibility checker to produce an automated testing engine for native mobile applications and mobile Web content, designed to increase the user experience on both iOS and Android devices.
"IBM wants to ensure that everyone, regardless of age or ability, has equal access to digital knowledge to make interactions and decisions easier and more adaptive. Today, with more than 6 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, mobile accessibility affects everyone," West said. For example, by integrating speech recognition and text to speech technology, we not only help someone who is vision impaired, but people who are "situationally disabled", such as a person trying to read their phone while driving."
Mobile application usage grew 76 percent in 2014 according to Yahoo! Flurry Analytics. As of July 2014, 1.3 million mobile apps were available through Android and 1.2 million through Apple’s App Store.