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Before we start talking specifically about Mobile Screen Readers, let’s do a brief review of accessibility so that we have a common understanding. The web as well as mobile applications are for most people an essential part of their daily life, whether at home, at work, and even on the road.
Accessibility in web and mobile applications refers to the practice of designing and developing these applications in a way that makes them usable and understandable by everyone, including those with disabilities. Being accessible is on a spectrum, not everyone has the same capabilities, and no two people have the same degree of disability.
The W3C (The World Wide Web Consortium and it’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) play a significant role in promoting and defining accessibility standards. WAI developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that gives developers and testers guidelines and areas to focus on that is organized into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR), and it has different levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. I won’t go through all four, but I think the first two are most applicable to our customers.
When it comes to perceivable, we generally think of sight. The reason we are so concerned with vision is because people’s vision can span quite the spectrum. For example, when it comes to sight disabilities you could suffer from blindness, low vision, color blindness or photophobia. If you are blind, you may have to depend on screen readers to interact with your application. If you have low vision, you may have difficulty reading small text or discerning low contrast content.
Providing resizable text and high-contrast options can help improve their experience. For color blindness, designers should avoid using color as the sole means of conveying information and ensuring adequate color contrast for readability.
Photophobia users are sensitive to bright lights and may prefer applications with dark mode or adjustable brightness settings. When we think of perceivable, we tend to focus on vision, but just a reminder, there are other methods of perception with a mobile application or a website like hearing as well. So, the area to be worried about if you’re doing a lot of video content that relies on dialogue, then you want to ensure that you’ve have the ability to enable captions for example.
Hearing is on a spectrum as well from deafness to being hard of hearing. You may need captions, transcripts for audio clips to ensure their access to information. For the hard of hearing, you want to give them the ability to adjust the volume levels or provide visual indicators.
The other principle we will focus on is operable and this can boil down to a bunch of stuff. But at the end of the day, you just make sure you don’t assume the person has a mouse, then you’re going to be forced to go down a path of doing things like making sure your application is keyboard accessible. Once again when it comes to operable this is on a spectrum as well. This could range from having a broken touchscreen to having some type of motor disability.
A person’s level of dexterity could be impaired by age related impairments; they may have issues focusing on an element with their hand or mouse, to not being able to use their arms and using a mouth stick to type. So, if you just don’t assume they can touch the screen to focus on an element or have a mouse, that opens a whole universe of ways of navigating the elements on a screen, that will broaden the access level of your application. Doing things as simple of ensuring that complex gestures aren’t necessary can enhance accessibility.
So, let’s get into what Perfecto offers today. When it comes to web accessibility, we offer integrations into third party tools like Deque and Evinced. You can follow those links because we have written blogs on these previously.
For mobile native applications Perfecto has been providing for some time now, access to Apple’s Accessibility Inspector and Android’s Accessibility Scanner that allow you to audit your mobile application via automation like Appium. These scanners check for issues such as low color contrast, small touch targets, improper implementation of clickable elements, missing content labels and other accessibility implementation issues.
You can read more about this in another blog we wrote, by clicking here. As you execute your script this ends up being a JSON report file along with the UI Snapshots attached to the Perfecto test execution report. This can be incredibly handy, especially at the beginning of a process, it can help you understand as an audit how good of a job are the developers doing.
So, before you go into a lot of hardcore testing, if you run one of these scanners, this will help you to plan better. But we still have a problem. There are still developers and testers who are required to test if their applications work with mobile screen readers.
Accessibility screen readers are essential tools that enable people with visual impairments to access and interact with smartphones. Apple iPhones and Android devices offer screen reader features to make their platform more inclusive and user-friendly for individuals with a diverse spectrum of abilities.
VoiceOver: VoiceOver is the screen reader feature available on iPhones. It provides spoken or audible feedback while using the phone, enabling user to navigate and interact with every built-in app by using touch gestures. When activated, users can tap on an on-screen message or app, and VoiceOver will read it aloud. VoiceOver is designed to assist individuals with visual impairments, allowing them to operate their iPhones effectively even without seeing the screen. It is an essential tool for blind and visually impaired users and is pre-installed on all Apple devices.
TalkBack: TalkBack is the screen reader feature available on Android devices. Similar to VoiceOver on iPhones, TalkBack provides spoken feedback and allows users to navigate their devices using touch gestures. It reads out on-screen content, including messages, apps, web pages, to assist individuals with visual impairments. TalkBack is pre-installed on many Android devices and can be found under Accessibility settings.
Perfecto’s customers want away to leverage their Perfecto cloud resources to be able to do their screen reader testing along with their manual and automation testing. Testers and developers need to have a way to test if you put the appropriate text in the right labels. There are several scenarios where I can list, this is applicable. You could be a developer and you’re in the implementation phase and there is a bug that was reported, and you need to fix it and make sure that it’s working on your customers device.
This feature isn’t available on simulators or emulators, so they need access to a real device. We’ve talked to some of our customers, and they are in a center of excellence on the accessibility team. They have a dedicated group and other teams in the organization are asking you to test their application to make sure it’s accessible. Other customers we’ve talked to, they are pushing the shift left boundary and they want accessibility to be a part of their definition of done. They want everybody to have access to the ability to have mobile screen reader support. This is a mobile only screen reader, desktop web support is a separate beast and Perfecto doesn’t do that.
Since April, Perfecto has been in a Technology Preview showcasing our support of VoiceOver. No one else has this kind of user interface to be able to do this to make this as easy as it is. This VoiceOver support will be GA in October of this year on our Enterprise/Private Cloud. TalkBack will be in a Technology Preview in October.
I have launched my mobile device on the Perfecto cloud. There is a new accessibility icon in the UI. When I click the icon, with one click we put this device into VoiceOver mode, and we enable the audio.
Now that we’re enabled, I’ve got these buttons circled in red next to the standard widget. When I click a button or next, I will hear VoiceOver on iOS speaking the text. I can navigate using the Test accessibility menu, but I would be using gestures on a real device that was in my hand.
This web front end is talking to the devices in our data center, it’s specifically talking to the service on this device to give it commands. It is not the same as manual testing mode, we are literally interacting with VoiceOver mode. This is important to understand for our customers who want to make sure that they are testing their application in VoiceOver mode.
In the Single Test Report, we will log all your actions, but now each of the accessibility steps are labeled accordingly, including the accessibility control you were using on the step, along with all the normal artifacts like video recording, device vitals, etc.
Accessibility testing is only getting to be more important, and incorporating accessibility testing of all varieties into your testing strategy should be at the top of your list of priorities. Accessibility testing the latest screen reader — whether it be for Apple or Android devices — will help your app stand out among the competition, while also complying to industry regulations and standards.
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Stephen has over 20 years of experience in testing, software development and telecommunications. Stephen has been working in the continuous testing space for five years, sharing his expertise with commercial, global 2000 and Fortune 500 companies. He is passionate about mobile test automation and helping organizations improve and scale their testing efforts.