Developing a mobile accessibility strategy

This presentation was created for the TechShare conference in Delhi, India Feb. 2014 It shows how Intuit’s mobile strategy has encouraged accessible mobile applications. The secret behind Intuit’s mobile accessibility strategy is that it has less to do with accessibility and everything to do with user experience and user-based design.

Yahoo’s hybrid application approach

Prior to working at Intuit, I worked within the Yahoo Accessibility Lab to help teams make their mobile applications accessible. Yahoo’s emphasis, at that time, was on building WOW experiences that were consistent across platforms. This led to heavily customized code that was largely inaccessible. A great example was the short lived LiveStand application. While this had good intentions, it was largely an accessibility black hole.

Yahoo’s Fantasy Sports applications also placed greater emphasis on design than structure. The content was largely built of HTML with divs instead of semantic tags. Everything on the page was treated as disconnected text strings. Yahoo Sportacular also had it’s share of problems. Yahoo is currently moving from these hybrid/HTML applications to native code.

Evolution

Birds in a tree with balls of vegetation I shifted from Yahoo to Intuit a couple years ago and the mobile application philosophy was significantly different. There’s a consistent pattern within technology. As a new platform is introduced (iOS, Android), engineers will work within the constraints, but begin looking for loopholes to differentiate their product. Moving too far from the technology core leads to unexpected expenses in performance, accessibility, and usability. This is where strategies (r)evolve within the custom vs. native programming.

Intuit Applications

I have consistently found the products released by Intuit have a high level of accessibility BEFORE I get involved. Why do they require a much lighter hand than the previous Yahoo products? What is the secret to Intuit’s mobile application strategy?

GoPayment for iPhone was the first accessible mobile payments option, as it had an alternative card swiper that was based on the dock instead of the earphone jack. They currently offer a card scanning option.

Building Strategies

  • Task Specific
  • Native Elements
  • Shared Components
  • Testing
  • Education

Task Specific

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Intuit creates task specific instead of monolithic applications. For instance, there are apps for checking on tax return status, keeping track of donations, preparing a payroll check, etc. Even the QuickBooks app has clearly defined task goals for each screen and some functions are sliced off as separate apps.

Good mobile apps focus on a few important tasks. Resist the temptation to make all the features of your main site into the ones that are most critical for mobile
Luke Wroblewski (Mobile First)

Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First proposal ushered in the world of mobile design and taught designers how to abandon the idea of transforming existing web sites to fit into a mobile device.

Native Components

Apple, Android, and other platforms have worked very hard to create inherent accessible functionality. Using native components significantly reduces the amount of work needed to make your application accessible. Intuit’s apps tend to use native components, as they are built to accomplish tasks. Native components don’t require an additional learning curve and users are able to use the application quicker.

Shared Components

When the native components are not adequate, Intuit’s Central Technology Group manages a set of components that are shared across the company. This allows the team to build high quality components that are tested for security, performance, usability, and accessibility.

Mint, a money management application, is famous for i’s dynamic, interactive charts. Other apps wanted to use these charts, but did so by forking the Mint code and modifying them for their use. We had many variations of the charts and none were accessible. Our CTO group took the Mint charts and made a universal set, fixing the accessibility, and now this version is being used across Intuit. Further, changes can be made in one code set and propagate across the products.

Testing

Testing is done both on actual devices and with automation, such as Calaba.sh and Android Lint.  Intuit’s product development also relies heavily on user testing, including users with disabilities. Intuit has a mobile device library that allows anyone within Intuit to check out a mobile device for testing. This has significantly lowered equipment cost and makes it much easier to test applications on an assortment of phones. This can be important as phone manufacturers may break accessibility, such as the Samsung keyboard.

Education

Intuit has a bi-weekly meeting for mobile developers and product managers. This helps distribute best practices, discoveries, and new shared components. Intuit also has an annual mobile gathering and has supported mobile development conference.

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