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UW CSE and HCDE researchers discover many mobile health apps let down low-vision users

Screen shot of mHealth appA team of researchers that includes UW CSE professor Richard Ladner, CSE Ph.D. student Lauren Milne and HCDE Ph.D. student Cynthia Bennett, conducted a review last year of nine mobile health apps developed for the iPhone to monitor blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Using a set of seven criteria, they gauged how accessible each app was to blind and low-vision users, who are more likely to suffer from health problems such as obesity or diabetes and for whom such apps could be important tools for managing their health. What the team discovered was that none of the apps met all of the criteria for being accessible to these users – but with a little more work, they could.

From the news release:

“‘We wanted to see if these health applications would be out-of-the-box accessible, and most really weren’t,’ said lead author Lauren Milne….’They made a lot of amateur mistakes that people make when they build apps.’

“The researchers also concluded it would take little effort for developers to make mainstream health sensors fully accessible to blind smartphone users – largely by following accessibility guidelines already established by Apple and the federal government….

“‘If people just used the basic widgets and things that Apple provides, they’d have better results,’ said Ladner. ‘But the number of app developers has increased, and most of them are thinking about trying to make things pretty. They’re not thinking about all the users.'”

The team’s findings were published in the 2015 issue Journal on Technology & Persons with Disabilities.

Read the entire UW news release here and the research paper here. Kudos to Richard and the team for calling attention to this important issue and working to extend the benefits of technology to everyone.

July 17, 2015