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What to do when an app isn’t usable with accessibility tools

As part of the SilVer project by the Barcelona Macula Foundation, we’ve noticed that people have been using a variety of apps since technology first opened the doors of the internet to the visually impaired. When we decide to download one app over another we’re very often influenced by recommendations but not all apps meet our expectations as they may not be accessible or usable with existing tools

What really determines whether an app is accessible or usable with the contrast or zoom tool is the typeface and interface design: how the app looks on the screen and the types of colour, brightness and contrast. Most of the time such issues are related to the app’s graphic design. But is there really a problem with accessibility?

The answer is definitely in the affirmative. When designers don’t know enough about universal design and access, they very often place letters on buttons without contrast or create uneven buttons whose information is difficult to make out, to give just two examples. This makes the app inaccessible.

The people most affected tend to be users of screen readers. To ascertain whether an app can be accessible and read by a screen reader, here are the most common problems:

  • Lack of alternative tags for the buttons. In other words, in the best of cases the screen reader says button instead of the action being carried out.
  • The tagging for links on photographs doesn’t provide the necessary information for the reader to realise they are on a link, merely providing audio feedback, with absolute silence instead of giving the information.
  • The most drastic error is when the screen reader doesn’t provide any information at all when the screen is read.

So, what can be done about it?

These are just a few examples of the difficulties you might encounter related to access and mobile apps. Whenever you come up against a problem like this, the best thing is to go back to the app store and give the developer a rating and,in the case of paid apps, ask for your money back.

It’s important to remember that the procedure for refunds differs depending on whether it’s Android or iOS. In the first case, within the first two hours after buying the app, the money is refunded immediately; after this time you have to report the problem and wait for Google to sort it out. In the second case, you have 90 days to ask for a refund providing you can indicate the problem, then you have to wait for Apple to sort it out, which has the right not to return the money if it detects any irregularities.

The SilVer project

SilVer (Smart Aids for Visually Impaired) is a free-access website for the blind and visually impaired that enables access to the best mobile apps and devices available on the market that are highly suitable for their everyday needs. This project has been developed thanks to Dr. Jordi Monés, founder of the Barcelona Macula Foundation (BMF), a Vitreoretinal specialist and researcher, together with the DRJ consultancy firm that specialises in the area of digital technology, accessibility and marketing.

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