A Guide to Mobile App Accessibility

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A Guide to Mobile App Accessibility

Posted May 07, 2024


Posted May 07, 2024

Mobile web browser with various pop-ups around it next to the accessibility icon.
Mobile web browser with various pop-ups around it next to the accessibility icon.

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Mobile app usage continues to rise raising the question: are mobile apps required to be accessible? The short answer is yes. Below, we’ll delve into the legal requirements for mobile apps and how you can make your apps more accessible.

Think about the last time you picked up your phone (it probably wasn’t that long ago). You likely rely on it for a lot — responding to messages, connecting with friends and family, and getting things done on the go. It’s an integral part of your life, right? But what would happen if you couldn’t use your phone? 

This is a reality for many individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities frequently encounter accessibility issues that make using mobile applications difficult, if not impossible.

Below, we’ll delve into the world of mobile app accessibility — what it is, why it matters, and the legal and ethical responsibility organizations have to provide an accessible mobile experience.

What is Mobile App Accessibility?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines mobile accessibility as “making websites and applications more accessible to people with disabilities when using mobile phones and other devices.” This includes people using devices such as:

  • Phones and tablets
  • Digital TVs
  • Wearable devices, including smartwatches
  • Devices in car dashboards and airplane seatbacks
  • Devices in household appliances
  • IoT devices

The purpose of mobile accessibility is to address issues such as:

  • Touchscreens
  • Small screen sizes
  • Various input modalities, including speech and 3D touch
  • Device use in different settings (e.g., using mobile devices in a brightly lit room)

Are Mobile Apps Required to be Accessible?

The short answer: Yes, mobile apps are required to be accessible in the United States. According to the U.S. federal courts and regulations, there are four instances in which mobile apps must be accessible:

  • If your mobile app is tied to a physical location, entity, or business.
  • If your business is only accessible through the web.
  • If federal employees use your mobile app.
  • If your app meets the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) communications requirements.

If your mobile app falls into one of these categories, it must be accessible. Doing so ensures you comply with accessibility laws and regulations. We’ll discuss these laws in more detail below.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in places of public accommodation, which includes the web and mobile applications. However, the ADA does not include technical specifications for mobile app accessibility. Instead, the act requires organizations to meet the standards contained in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).


Developed by the W3C, WCAG is considered the go-to accessibility standard for digital accessibility. The guidelines have more than 80 success criteria, each designed to enhance accessibility for those with disabilities. WCAG is divided into four principles (commonly referred to as POUR):

  • Perceivable: Mobile content should be entirely visible to users. It shouldn’t be hidden or inaccessible to those with hearing loss, vision loss, or other disabilities. 
  • Operable: All mobile app components, including navigation, should be operable by all users — regardless of ability.
  • Understandable: Users should be able to understand your mobile content easily.
  • Robust: Mobile content must be robust enough to be easily interpreted by various users, including those using assistive technologies.

The W3C created several success criteria (SC) for mobile apps to improve accessibility around screen size, touch target, keyboard control, screen orientation, and more. For example, WCAG 2.1 SC 2.5.5 outlines best practices for touch target size and spacing, recommending touch targets are at least 44 by 44 CSS pizels. Additionally, the guideline recommends touch targets close to the minimum size be surrounded by inactive space.

For a complete list of WCAG mobile app success criteria, refer to W3C’s mobile accessibility mapping document.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was the first federal law in the United States to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The legislation applies specifically to federal agencies and organizations that receive federal funding, including contractors and suppliers. Under Section 508, all digital communications, including those on mobile apps, must be accessible.

Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

Signed into effect in 2010, the CVAA requires that web browsers on mobile devices be accessible to people with disabilities. Under Title I, web browsers on mobile devices need to be accessible to those with visual impairments (e.g., people who are blind, who have low vision, or who are colorblind). This includes video communications, email, and text messages.

Series of mobile web browsers, one with the accessibility icon in the middle.

Mobile Application Accessibility Checklist

Knowing that mobile accessibility is a legal requirement, let’s discuss how to enhance accessibility across your mobile devices. It’s important to note the best practices mentioned below can help you meet accessibility requirements — they’re meant to be used as a starting point. 

With that in mind, here are a few best practices for mobile accessibility:

  • Design with screen size in mind: The small screen size of mobile devices can make it difficult for users to view and access information. You can make the experience more accessible by designing with smaller screens in mind. 
  • Pay attention to color contrast: WCAG includes recommendations for appropriate color contrast ratios on web content, but you’ll want to pay extra attention to color contrast on mobile apps. For example, if a user uses a mobile device in a brightly lit room, it may impact their ability to view the screen. Following WCAG’s color contrast recommendations of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text can help improve readability. Consider using a color contrast checker to help with this.
  • Simplify app gestures: Most apps are controlled through simple touch gestures, like a one-finger tap. However, there are times when more complex gestures (e.g., actions involving multiple fingers or multiple taps) are needed. In these situations, try to simplify as much as possible. Consider using a swiping gesture or reducing taps whenever possible. This ensures those with motor or dexterity impairments can still use and interact with mobile content.
  • Adjust touch target size: Touch targets are tricky. You must find the right balance between being big enough to see but not so big as blocking information. It can’t be so small that users can’t easily see or click on the button. To strike that perfect balance, WCAG recommends a minimum touch target size of 9 mm high by 9 mm wide with enough inactive space around the target. You’ll also want to place touch targets like buttons or links in easily accessible places.
  • Make data entry easy: Data entry on mobile devices is relatively easy. Developers can simplify the experience by providing alternate ways for users to input information. For example, providing drop-down or select menus, checkboxes, or radio buttons can improve the experience for some users. Additionally, ensure users have multiple ways to enter information, including through keyboard shortcuts and commands, speech-to-text, and assistive technologies.
  • Keep layouts consistent: Mobile content that repeats across multiple mobile screens should be kept as consistent as possible. For example, navigational elements or search bars should appear in the same place across screens. Providing a consistent layout creates a more seamless experience for users and helps them feel more comfortable and confident navigating your app.
  • Conduct regular accessibility testing: Regular accessibility testing with users with disabilities can help you identify where accessibility errors exist on your mobile devices. Additionally, users may provide insight into the best way to resolve errors. Be sure to test your mobile content on various screen readers; this can help you provide a better experience on different devices.

Rather than adding these features to mobile apps after launch, keep them in mind from the very beginning of the app design and development process. Doing so helps you find and fix accessibility issues before they impact your users.

Benefits of Accessible Mobile Apps

Mobile app accessibility gives users an equivalent experience, regardless of their abilities. And there are a lot of benefits to providing this experience.

From a legal standpoint, accessible mobile apps may help you avoid legal action. Under the ADA, discrimination is prohibited against individuals with disabilities. If your mobile app is inaccessible, you could face a lawsuit or demand letter, which can result in expensive fines and damage to your company’s reputation (look at what happened in the infamous Domino’s Pizza case).

From a business perspective, accessible mobile apps help expand your audience reach. By providing users with a more seamless experience, user satisfaction goes up. This opens the door to more customers and more revenue opportunities.

Finally, and most importantly, accessibility in mobile spaces is just the right thing to do. Almost everyone uses a mobile device — whether it be a smartphone, tablet, or IoT device. Mobile device usage shouldn’t be restricted to specific groups of people; instead, they should be accessible to everyone.

Bring Accessibility to Your Mobile Apps

As mobile app usage continues to rise, all users should be able to use your mobile apps — particularly those with disabilities. By proactively considering the needs of disabled users, you can create a more accessible, inclusive mobile experience, which is something that benefits everyone.

AudioEye’s Mobile App Audit is designed to help you realize these benefits and create a more accessible experience. Our certified experts work with real users to identify accessibility issues on your mobile apps and provide recommendations for fixing them. We start with a pre-audit questionnaire to understand the purpose of your app, then complete a comprehensive audit. Finally, we’ll put together a detailed report that includes the accessibility issues we found and recommended fixes.

Enhance the accessibility of your mobile apps by scheduling a demo today

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