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The Impact of Mobile Accessibility on Businesses

mobile accessibility

mobile accessibility

Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series is a collection of contributed articles written by thought leaders in enterprise software categories. Johnny Lam of Perforce examines the impact of mobile accessibility on businesses and why yours can’t do without it.

Estimations reveal that 15 percent of the global population lives with a disability, while approximately 85 percent of Americans own smartphones. The question arises: how do these statistics intertwine? The imperative is clear— everyone should have the ability to utilize and relish the apps on their devices. In today’s world, where mobile applications cover nearly every facet of life, not all apps, however, are born equal. Prioritizing a user experience that caters to all is of paramount importance for developers.

More recently, governments and regulators have begun acknowledging the significance of accessible applications. Several countries, like Canada, have implemented regulations that impose fines on organizations failing to meet specific requirements, such as WCAG 2. The number of accessibility-related lawsuits has also risen. Businesses lacking processes to tackle these issues not only encounter adverse publicity but are also susceptible to fines and potential business loss.

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The Impact of Mobile Accessibility

Mobile accessibility testing serves as a safeguard, ensuring that defects are identified within the software development cycle, but businesses are still figuring this out today. First-hand experience indicates that most development teams are still figuring out their strategy, with some still treating accessibility testing as an afterthought. It’s imperative that project managers allocate adequate time and resources to fix any defects; one option to address this is by automating critical use cases during the development cycle.

State of Mobile Accessibility Testing Maturity

Based on experience, organizations’ mobile accessibility practices can be categorized into the following phases:

  • Phase 1 – Zero Awareness: At this phase, accessibility is not even a topic of discussion. Businesses have not put any thought into this, nor is it found in any initiatives, epics, or stories. As a result, these organizations are left unaware of the impact of alienating a significant portion of their customer base and have no way to measure it. Moreover, on the occasion that the organization is hit with an accessibility lawsuit, they have no process in place to address these issues. These situations often cause an “all hands on deck” scenario, completely paralyzing the development team’s ability to work on anything else. Unfortunately, most development teams fall within this category.
  • Phase 2 – Testing on Major Events: Here, teams are aware of the importance of accessibility. However, due to funding and prioritization, they do not have the bandwidth and expertise to test accessibility frequently. As a result, teams conduct a dedicated sprint or two focused on accessibility, primarily done through manual testing or by hiring third-party contractors. The issues found typically take several sprints to resolve and are put on the backlog. Organizations with such practices are gambling on the assumption that no issues arise between major events. They have some understanding of the risks they take; however, when a severe issue arises, they find themselves back in the war room, once again paralyzing the team’s ability to work on anything else. This pattern is quite prevalent among mid- to large-sized enterprise customers.
  • Phase 3 – Moving Toward Automation: Teams are focused on achieving faster feedback at this phase by leveraging scanners and plugins to automate the detection of accessibility issues. Quality assurance teams often prioritize automating accessibility regression testing first, aiming to execute these tests as frequently as possible, typically once a night. They still perform audits at certain milestones to achieve compliance. This is typically seen as a monumental achievement, as teams have significantly shortened the feedback loop and provided developers with enough time to triage and fix issues within sprints. This greatly reduces the risk of non-compliance, and now they have a process in place to address issues should defects leak into production without affecting development timelines. A handful of large enterprise organizations achieve this level of maturity.
  • Phases 4 & 5 – Incorporating into CI/CD and Achieving Compliance in the Process: Accessibility is now part of code reviews and the definition of done. Automated tests are categorized into smoke, sanity, and regression tests. Accessibility quality gates are incorporated into the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) process for early detection. Developers can self-serve and triage any defects. In the ideal state, organizations often describe the need to map out and achieve compliance within this process.

Criteria to Consider When Implementing Mobile Accessibility Practices

Organizations encounter significant challenges when striving to establish a robust mobile accessibility testing strategy. Some factors to consider when evaluating a solution include:

  1. Seamless Integration with Existing Automation: Many development teams have heavily invested in functional test automation using open-source frameworks like Appium, Espresso, and XCUITest. Instead of creating new tests specifically for accessibility, a more efficient approach involves adopting accessibility scanners and plugins that can ride along with existing tests.
  2. Staying Current with Evolving Rules and Regulations: Governing bodies frequently update their accessibility guidelines. W3C, for instance, has introduced new guidelines several times in the last few years. Development teams must remain cognizant of what their accessibility scanners should uncover and how these align with the regulations.
  3. Comprehensive Reports: A viable solution should facilitate developers in comprehending defects and provide actionable steps for triage and issue resolution.
  4. Wide Device Compatibility: Organizations often need to test against a multitude of mobile devices—sometimes more than 24 distinct OS and device combinations. Development teams should opt for a tool capable of conducting tests across multiple platforms at scale.
  5. Integration with the Development Workflow: The ability to seamlessly integrate with existing Continuous Integration and Deployment processes holds pivotal importance. This integration ensures teams can readily embrace a solution.

Overall, there has been a growing awareness and heightened investment among organizations to enhance mobile accessibility, but to keep this trend moving in the right direction, evangelism is crucial, as this is still very much in the early adopter phase. Businesses must understand the significance of accessibility, as well as have the proper tools and practices in place to adopt and implement these principles effectively.

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