Is your app accessible to 14 million disabled people in the UK?

Energy Savings Trust
Catherine Cashman
11 May 2021

Top ten features to increase app usability

Smartphone and tablet applications (apps) have fast become an integral part of our daily lives - being used to communicate with each other, look up information, perform essential tasks, admin and even entertain us. Especially over the last year living through a pandemic - where in-person contact and services have been hugely restricted.

Apps are covered by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, however there remains room for improvement in ensuring that people with a wide range of needs are able to use them.

A recent survey by RiDC (Research Institute for Disabled Consumers), completed by 633 disabled and older people from our consumer panel, found that one in four (26%) of those that have downloaded an app (90%) have had difficulty accessing or using them. With almost half of these (44%) going on to uninstall or delete them. The most common accessibility issues related to downloading and setting up, not supporting assistive technology, crowded displays, filling in forms and registering and poor text size or font.

With the spending power of disabled people estimated at £249 million a year to UK  business, that is a large amount of custom to be missing out on.

Thankfully, it is a problem easily solved.

If you think about designing for everyone from the beginning of the design process then you won’t miss anyone out. Or, if you already have an app developed, get it reviewed and user-tested by a wide range of people who can offer their insights on possible problem areas and solutions. Many of the changes might be simpler to make or include than you think, and others may highlight options you had never thought of before.

RiDC has a long history of consulting the members of their panel on technology and app use, and have facilitated a number of recent usability testing workshops on apps.

Here, we share our top ten features to consider when designing, testing and improving apps.

1. Download and set-up

  • Is the app easy to find and download from the app store?
  • Are clear instructions provided throughout the whole set-up process?
  • Could the set-up process involve less steps? The fewer, the better.

2. Support for assistive technology

Many users have assistive technology already installed on their own device(s), which the app should be compatible with, so the user can fully access the features they need while using it. 

  • Does the app support users screenreaders (i.e. Apple's VoiceOver and Android's Talkback) on their smartphone or tablet?
  • Does the app support the Zoom or Magnification feature on users' smartphone or tablet?
  • Does the app support other enhancements made to users’ smartphone or tablet (i.e. enlarged text size, contrast, colour inversion)?

3. Ability to customise

  • Are users with visual impairments or colour blindness able to adjust the text size or change the colour contrast in the app’s settings?
  • Are users able to customise the app’s layout and chose what information is displayed to them?

4. Consistent layout

Too much information on a page or too many different ways of saying things can make it harder for someone to understand what they need to do or know.

  • Are buttons and icons that are repeated across different pages on the app presented in a consistent layout?
  • Is the arrangement of on-screen components the same across different screen sizes and orientations (portrait and landscape)?

5. Simplicity

  • Has the functionality of the app been prioritised over its style or 'look and feel'? 
  • Is the design of the app's interface minimal and has it avoided using unnecessary elements (e.g. too many graphics) that could interfere with its functionality?
  • Is the app's interface not crowded with too many graphics or information?
  • Are important on-screen components clearly visible to the user without needing to scroll down the page?

6. Clearly displayed buttons and information

  • Is there good colour contrasting between text or icons and the background (i.e. no less than 4:5:1)? Does this contrast support users in different lighting conditions (e.g. glare from the sun)?
  • Are buttons, icons and images clearly presented and labelled with text?
  • Are buttons large enough and is there enough spacing between them (at least 9mm tall by 9mm wide) for users to target them by touch?
  • Are buttons placed where they can be easily reached when holding your device in different orientations (i.e. portrait or landscape)?

7. Simple touchscreen gestures

Many people live with a health condition, or simply old age which can affect their ability to hold things or make targeted and precise gestures with their fingers.

  • Does the app require simple tap or swiping gestures for those with dexterity impairments or hand tremors?
  • Does the app allow users to easily return and fix their mistakes when they have carried out unintentional gestures?
  • Does the app give users the choice of using alternative gestures to support their dexterity needs?

8. Easy to input information

  • Does the app provide the user with different data entry styles (e.g. select menus, radio buttons, check boxes or autofill) to reduce the time spent entering text and numbers and avoid errors? This would provide more manageable options for users with visual, dexterity and learning impairments who may find inputting text challenging.
  • Are users able to enter numbers and text in alternative ways (e.g. speech input, Bluetooth keyboard, face ID)?

9. Feedback for the user

  • Does the app inform the user that an action they have performed has taken effect? For example, when they tap or swipe on something does it let them know what has changed visually or through audio tones or haptic feedback?
  • Does the app provide enough indication to help the user recognise, diagnose and recover from errors?

10. Ease of understanding

  • Are buttons, icons and images easily recognised and understood by users without them needing to rely on memory?
  • Is it clear which features of the app allow users to perform certain actions?
  • Are all users able to easily understand information that is presented to them?

To find out more about our research and consultancy services go to https://www.ridc.org.uk/content/research-and-consultancy