Focus on hands holding a smartphone.

Day 60: Identifying A11y Issues for Touch Screen Users

Touch screen accessibility is something I haven’t spent much time thinking on. Maybe not ever, come to think of it. I know that touch screens usually require gestures for interaction (i.e. swiping or tapping), but I hadn’t thought about how that might affect others. I even know about alternative ways to interact with touch screens, like with switch devices, but I’m not all that familiar with the challenges it can bring.

So, today was a significant learning day to figure out how people could potentially be excluded from phone or tablet design or the apps that live on those devices.

Things I accomplished



What I learned today

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear touch screen accessibility are the disadvantages of touch screens for specific disabilities. However, touch screens are actually quite beneficial for other disabilities that make it hard to use a mouse or keyboard.

Things to consider for touch screen accessibility for web design:

  • Sufficiently large touch target sizes, which benefits users with motoric and visual impairments, as well as everyone else [WCAG SC 2.5.5]
  • Simplified layout, generous white space, and intuitive design, which can benefits everyone
  • Allowing different screen orientations (portrait or landscape) to give the user a choice [WCAG SC 1.3.4]
  • Extra considerations for when the screen reader is turned on, since some gestures will change once activated
  • Alternatives for complex gestures must offered [WCAG SC 2.5.1]
  • Custom gesture events must have an alternative method for activation (e.g. clicking a button) [WCAG SC 2.5.6]
  • Motion-activated events (e.g. shaking the device) must have an alternative method for activation (e.g. clicking a button) [WCAG SC 2.5.4]

In short, don’t take away the choice from users and don’t make assumptions of how they use their device. Offer them lots of choices (alternatives for interaction) so they can continue to do what they do.

This list reminds me that not all touch screen device owners use the touch screen. Other interaction methods include voice commands, Bluetooth keyboard, and switch devices. Not all who use the touch screen will touch the device the same way I can. Additionally, not all touch screens receive the same type of touch when it comes to how the screen responds to touch (i.e. hand versus gloved hand or stylus).

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