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RNIB Hackathon: Accessible Apps for All

We are here at the RNIB Hackathon at SkillsMatter in London trying to understand the challenges and seeing if we can come up or improve on existing products for people with partial sight.  First Day at the RNIB Hackathon and there is a room full of developers that are looking to work with the RNIB and onsite experts to build some amazing accessible products.  A statistic to start you with:

Today 100 people are going to be told that they are going to lose their sight.  50% of those people needn’t have lost their sight if they would have had their eye tested!


So what is an accessible product?

First point that is important to know is that not all users who need the accessible features have no sight. The RNIB is there to help people with all types of impairments. Not just the people with no sight at all. A lot of partially sighted people have spent their lives living with a multitude of gadgets which have now have or at least can be replaced by a phone.

We want to do a simple thing, we want to change the world. But we are pragmatic, we want to do it incrementally.

There are 285 Million partially sighted people and with an ever ageing population, the number will be growing. There are 2 million people in the UK and there will be 4 million people by 2050 with partial vision.  This population size means that there is a ready large audience and an amazing opportunity to build some really fantastic products that can improve all users experience.

Some tips on how to make your apps easy and accessible for  everyone

  • Keep it Simple-Do you really need to use all the things you are showing on the screen- could it be simpler
  • Keep it consistent Make sure your interfaces use key buttons and information that are always in the same positions so users can learn to use it quickly.
  • Fonts- italics are hard to read cursive is illegible.
  • Don’t make font size too large, as you will have to deal with words cut in half.
  • Shorter words should be Upper case as they are easier to see.
  • Long sentences should be mixture of upper and lowercase.
  • Moving pictures are not good as hard to see.
  • Contrast is really important. Make sure you have lots of contrasting colour.
  • But it doesn’t have to be black and white, it could be dark blue and light blue. Make it interesting for users.

Tips for making your Text to Speech work

  • Make sure your labels are descriptive. e.g. Clock to set alarm instead of clock
  • Use audio to give people numbers in menus so they know where to find data without using memory.
  • Use heading size of headings so people know which are importance and can understand context.
  • Test it out! – one train app says From: to: London Peterborough. It should say From London to Peterborough!
  • Security- Make sure you use stars instead of pin numbers which can be read out by a screen reader.

Some ideas behind mobile apps.  Mobile principles of Accessibility

1. There are a lot of hardware solutions to help partially sighted people, Make hardware solutions as software and make them accessible for all ( and cheaper!)

2. Accessible apps work for everyone – You are making apps for people with visual impairments. Elderly people can’t always pinch and zoom!

Is Android Accessible?

The latest Android version has actually got quite laudable improvements in accessibility especially around text to speech.  Unfortunately not everyone has access to latest Android.

Good Accessibility= Good for All

Having an accessible app is something that is both beautiful and functional and often the most beauty is gained within it being as easy and functional for all.  It has an amazing potential to improve people’s lives and it is basic usability that will make apps better not just for partially sighted users, but for everyone.

Right all, I am off to go make something to help the world ( even in a small way)

Has this sparked off an idea for an accessible app? If it has then Vodafone has a Mobile Accessibility 200,000EUR prize fund, which you can enter by going to the Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility.

For everyone- make sure you have your eyes tested regularly.   Here is a useful link on more info about how to get your eyes tested.


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