How Can UK Mobile App Developers Ensure Compliance with Digital Accessibility Regulations?

11 June 2024

In the digital era, apps have become indispensable tools for citizens to access public services, shopping, education and more. However, ensuring these digital platforms are accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, is a key challenge. As a mobile app developer in the UK, it is essential that you understand and comply with digital accessibility regulations. These guidelines are designed to make web and mobile content more accessible to people with various disabilities including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. This article will equip you with a comprehensive understanding of the requirements and how you can meet them.

Understanding Digital Accessibility and its Importance

Digital accessibility refers to the design and implementation of websites, apps, and other digital content in a way that allows all users, regardless of their abilities, to access, understand, navigate and interact effectively. This includes accommodating for visual impairments, hearing impairments, cognitive disorders, motor or dexterity impairments, and speech impairments.

In the public sector, digital accessibility is not just an ethical consideration, but a legal requirement. In the UK, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 mandates that all websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 to a minimum of Level AA.

This implies that all aspects of your mobile app, from the interface design to the content and features, should be accessible to everyone. By integrating accessibility into your development process, you enhance the user experience for all users, increase your customer base and stay compliant with the law.

Ensuring Compliance with WCAG Requirements

The WCAG 2.1 guidelines form the core of the accessibility regulations in the UK. These guidelines provide a wide range of recommendations for making digital content more accessible. They are divided into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

To comply with these principles, your mobile app should provide text alternatives for non-text content, make it easier for users to see and hear content, enable keyboard navigation, provide users enough time to read and use the content, not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures and physical reactions, help users navigate and find content, make text readable and understandable, and ensure content appears and operates in predictable ways.

Also, your app should be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. Regularly testing your app using both automated tools and human testers, particularly those with disabilities, can help ensure that you are meeting these requirements.

Navigating Public Sector Accessibility Regulations

The public sector has specific requirements for digital accessibility. The UK's 2018 accessibility regulations apply to all public sector bodies - central and local government organisations, and some charities and non-government organisations.

If you are developing an app for a public sector body, you must conduct an accessibility test and publish an accessibility statement. This statement should include details about the app’s compliance with accessibility standards, any parts of the app that are not accessible, a description of any accessible alternatives provided, and a feedback mechanism for users to report accessibility issues or request information in an accessible format.

Failure to comply with these regulations can have serious consequences, including legal action and reputational damage.

Incorporating Best Practices for Digital Accessibility

Though meeting the minimum standards is crucial, striving for the highest levels of accessibility can give your app a competitive edge. Here are some best practices to consider:

  • Always design with accessibility in mind. From the initial stages of design, consider how different users interact with your app and plan features accordingly.
  • Use clear, simple language and provide explanations for any complex content.
  • Ensure that interactive elements are large enough to be used easily, and that there is sufficient contrast between text and background colours.
  • Make sure your app works well with assistive technologies like screen readers and voice recognition software.
  • Regularly update your app to fix any accessibility issues, and continually monitor user feedback and make improvements as necessary.

Digital accessibility is not a one-off task but an ongoing commitment. By understanding and implementing digital accessibility regulations, you not only ensure compliance but also create an app that is user-friendly for all, enhancing your reputation and broadening your user base.

Adapting to the EU Web Accessibility Directive

Introduced in 2016, the European Union's Web Accessibility Directive aims to make public sector websites and mobile applications more accessible to all, particularly individuals with disabilities. The directive mandates that these digital platforms should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust in line with the WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

These regulations are binding on all EU member states, meaning UK mobile app developers working on projects for public sector clients within the EU must comply. The directive covers all aspects of a mobile application, from the interface layout and design to the content presentation and interactive features.

To meet the directive's requirements, developers should incorporate features like resizable text, alternative text for images, closed captioning for audio content, and keyboard accessibility. The platform should be compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers and speech recognition software. Furthermore, a mechanism to receive and address user feedback regarding accessibility should be in place.

Furthermore, an accessibility statement must be published on the application, outlining its level of compliance with the directive, any areas that are not fully accessible, and the feedback process for users to report any issues or request additional accessible content.

Compliance with the EU Web Accessibility Directive is not only a legal requirement but also a way to expand your application's user base, boost customer satisfaction, and enhance your brand's reputation for inclusivity.

Conclusion: Strengthening Digital Accessibility in the UK

The importance of digital accessibility cannot be overstated. Ensuring that web content and mobile applications are accessible to all, including those with disabilities, is an ethical responsibility, a legal obligation, and a solid business strategy. For UK developers, adherence to the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018, the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, and the EU Web Accessibility Directive will help to meet these objectives.

Developers should strive to go beyond the minimum requirements and incorporate best practices for digital accessibility. These include designing with accessibility in mind from the outset, using clear and simple language, ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies, and continually updating and improving based on user feedback.

In an increasingly digital world, making products and services accessible to all is not just about compliance with accessibility laws. It's about creating a more inclusive digital landscape, where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can access, understand, and interact effectively with websites, mobile apps, and other digital content. This commitment to accessibility ultimately leads to a broader user base, improved user experience, and a stronger brand reputation.