What Accessibility Standards Apply to Mobile Applications?

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Mobile Apps (including mobile web apps) are generally covered by the same standards for access by people with disabilities that apply to non-mobile software and web applications. Applicable U.S. laws such as the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), Section 508, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply in different ways. The following standards apply to each U.S. law listed below:

Section 508

The technical and functional requirements of Section 508 such as Section 1194.21 Software Applications and Operating Systems, Section 1194.22 Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications and Section 1194.31 Functional Performance Criteria can be applied to mobile content. While these standards do not include specific mobile app requirements the requirements cover the general accessibility requirements that are relevant to mobile apps.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

For organizations that must be ADA compliant accessibility of mobile apps should follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 standards including multimedia access (captioning and audio description).

WCAG 2 does not specifically address mobile apps, however, the principles, and success criteria outlined in WCAG 2 are relevant to mobile apps. The sufficient techniques and known failures for WCAG 2 don’t specifically address mobile apps — however sufficient techniques and failures are non-normative information and criteria for mobile apps could be created to map to WCAG success criteria. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) did create Mobile Web Best Practices for mobile web apps, however, these best practices are not accessibility specific although they do include guidance that promotes accessibility. The best practices need to be updated and thus the WCAG 2 guidelines are the most relevant set of public standards that should guide mobile app development. Additionally, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) created a W3C guideline document titled User Agent Accessibility Guidance 2.0 — the guidelines provided in that document are beneficial in creating accessible mobile apps.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

The CVAA Rulemaking and Order from October 2011
addresses guidelines on what performance objectives must be met for advanced communication devices and applications. These types of objectives include access without vision, with low vision, without hearing, without color perception, with limited manual dexterity, without speech, etc. The objectives also address availability of information without requiring vision, hearing, etc. These functional objectives are inline the core principles of WCAG 2 guidelines and Section 508. Thus, WCAG 2 guidelines and Section 508 standards are a logical starting point for mobile app accessibility under CVAA.

Conclusion

Mobile apps including mobile web apps may be subject to one or more accessibility standards. Additionally, the main international standards for accessible web content the WCAG 2 Guidelines are a good foundation for ensuring mobile apps are accessible to people with disabilities. As requirements for the ADA are spelled out by the DOJ and additional rulemaking is made under the CVAA more specific standards are likely to emerge around mobile content.

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