In our three-part series, Google’s User Experience researchers Astrid Weber and Nithya Sambasivan discuss the principles behind building globally accessible products, and offer practical resources for the design and development community. In Part I, they outlined how designers and developers can increase their awareness of accessibility issues. Here in part two, they’ll explore why it’s critical to consider logistics—like network cost and reliability, different generations and models of devices, and accessibility settings during the design process, and how understanding those broader factors will expand your app’s usability and usefulness.
What is global accessibility? A quick recap
No two users are exactly alike. Physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as environmental factors, can inhibit people from fully engaging with technology: hardware, software, and beyond.
As UX researchers, we often find similar—sometimes even identical—issues that impact users’ ability to interact with their tech; and while the restrictions across users and use cases vary, the design implications are similar. For example, bright sunshine, low vision, or a cracked phone screen can all be factors that motivate the need for better contrast ratios.
Living in an increasingly globalized world means that there’s an opportunity to proactively build ethical and meaningful products that are inclusive of societies and cultures worldwide. Let’s continue that journey by learning more about designing for global accessibility.
Build great user experiences for modest devices
People who live in emerging markets are often dependent on budget devices. When Jonah was a three-year-old growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, an eye infection left him visually impaired at a time when there was little awareness around accessibility needs. Today, Jonah is 19 years old, and helps his parents run their neighborhood store. He uses the camera on his affordable Evercross phone to enlarge objects offline, and accesses the online world through a prepaid mobile data pack. Recognize that older, less expensive gadgets might have limited internal storage or laggy processors running on outdated operating systems, which can slow down usage—or discourage usage altogether—and design your product for a range of models.
- Test your layout and rendering on 480 x 800 px and screen sizes smaller than 4 inches.
- Reduce the download size of your app or offer a “light” version.
- Provide controls and visibility into the device storage and allow users the easy deletion of content.
- Control long-running or high latency processes to minimize battery usage for your app.
Ensure that your app functions seamlessly in intermittent networks—and when offline
Network coverage in emerging markets is often sluggish, sparse, and/or unpredictable; as a result, users may opt for slower speeds like 2G, or turn off their mobile data manually to save money. Keep in mind that accessibility services can require additional bandwidth from the network. For example, an app which is screen reader-accessible—allowing the page to be read aloud for blind or visually impaired people—but fails to perform well on an intermittent network has limited utility.
- Make your app’s content available offline.
- Provide progress indicators and other status changes with meaningful alternative text for those who access phones through screen readers. User experience is crucial over poor connectivity, including for those who use assistive technologies.
- Support local caching of form inputs to avoid losing data—and user frustration.
- Render content progressively and pre-cache frequently-used content.
- Test your app in airplane mode to simulate a lack of connectivity.
Keep usage costs low
Connectivity can be expensive; in Uganda, for example, internet access typically costs 11 percent of the average person’s income. As a result, many people carefully monitor their data usage and avoid installing and/or using data-heavy applications. Remember that assistive technologies usually delay user journeys, which will result in longer online sessions and, ultimately, higher costs.
- Minimize high-bandwidth consumption, including videos, rich graphics, and auto refresh.
- Provide transparency and control into data-heavy applications.
- Keep updates minimal and relevant. Explain the value of each update in straightforward language.
- Allow users to try your app or service for free.
Treat accessibility settings as critical, not just as a checklist
People with disabilities use a variety of assistive technologies to access apps. If you build your application with those functions in mind, you can increase the amount of people who can use your product. We recommend testing components and user flows through your app regularly with a variety of assistive technologies and accessibility settings turned on.
- Familiarize yourself with the accessibility settings of the operating systems that you build on.
- Keep assistive technologies in reach while building and testing new features to ensure that things work seamlessly for all users.
- Simulate the most important use cases and user journeys with accessibility settings enabled.
- Test with real users in various countries as often as possible to track app performance, and insights into how to improve the user experience.