When I started working with an elementary school-aged student with low vision, one of the first things their teacher mentioned was how the student would talk about how they couldn’t use a popular application that they needed for a classroom lesson. The teacher admitted that they weren’t sure why the student couldn’t use the application, because they assumed that all apps had to be accessible before they were made available on the app store or before they could be downloaded to a device, and they wondered if the student was just making excuses. While I love the idea that all apps should be accessible before they can be used by the public, that is not the case for many applications, and it’s easy to encounter inaccessible applications in a variety of settings.
In order to help the teacher with determining whether an app would be accessible for their student or not, I created a basic app accessibility checklist that they could complete, which would help them decide whether an app was accessible for their student or not. While there is a lot more that goes into creating accessible applications, today I will be sharing the checklist I made so that users can check whether someone with low vision can use a given app.
Many applications support the device’s font settings and will display text that is the same size and style as the system font. On iOS devices, this is called supporting Dynamic Font, and apps that support Dynamic Font will show the same font size that is enabled within accessibility settings. Android has the same capability as well (though there is no known name for it), and it’s helpful for allowing users to be able to read the text at a comfortable level.
However, there are many apps that do not support the device’s font size or settings and choose to use their own font style or font size. In these cases, the font can be too small in an app for a user to see, and they may need to use a screen magnifier or text-to-speech in order to read text. Alternatively, the font may be large enough but it may be difficult to read due to decorative elements, so it’s important to make sure that the text is clear and that letters can be distinguished easily. It’s worth noting that some apps allow users to change the font size within the settings menu, though students may not be able to increase the font size independently.
Many people with vision loss use a screen reader, which is a software program that reads all text and layout information that is on a screen using a synthesized voice. Many mobile devices have their own built-in screen readers like VoiceOver (Apple/iOS), TalkBack (Android), ChromeVox (Chromebook), and others. However, many applications do not support screen readers as their apps fail to include labels for buttons, alt text for images, or they prevent users from being able to have text read out loud. For students who benefit from having information read out loud but who do not need an eyes-free display, I recommend having tools like Speak Text or Select to Speak enabled so that they can have text read out loud with the press of a button.
When using devices with large print, some applications may have text run off of the page or fail to enlarge buttons, which can make the app unusable for people with low vision. It’s important to make sure all elements of the screen are visible so that a user can navigate the app without assistance. It’s worth noting that a user may not necessarily notice missing text – as a young student, I had no idea that my answer choices were cut off until my teacher told me.
Is it easy to read the text on the screen? Reading black text on a dark gray background can be difficult or impossible for students with low vision, though there are a few options for improving on-screen contrast:
Once upon a time, I had to use an app in one of my classes that would generate a rapidly flashing animation whenever I got a question right. Since I have a medical condition aggravated by strobe lights, I found myself wishing that I would fail my quiz and get all of the questions wrong so that I could avoid the animation. Disabling animations in device settings can help with this issue, but it is something worth checking to ensure that an adverse medical reaction isn’t triggered.
Too many times, people decide that an app is accessible as long as they have someone without a disability to help them use it. If that is the case, then the app is not actually accessible. Students should not have to be forced to work with a partner while everyone else gets to work independently, and they should also not have to jump through a ton of hoops to be able to complete an activity. If a student is unable to use an app by themselves, I recommend either having everyone in the class work with a partner or choosing a different app entirely.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated November 2023; original post published June 2017.
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