8 September 2015

Good Food Talks: Developing for Accessibility

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Lara Findlay

Back in July last year (2014) one of our clients introduced us to Matt from Good Food Talks. Matt had downloaded one of our apps, The Bay Fish, and noted that it worked well with iOS VoiceOver.

VoiceOver is a screen reader built into Apple devices that speaks everything on your phone out loud, and is designed to increase accessibility for blind and low-vision users. Matt was looking to harness this functionality to create a menu reading app for those with visual impairments.

Why the app is so important

Being blind himself, Matt explained to us that when someone who has poor vision, or other reading barriers (for example dyslexia) visits a restaurant, it can be an unpleasant experience. They normally rely on others around them to read out the menu. Even for those who have some vision, small or difficult to read font, strange colours and poor contrast can get in the way and very few restaurants will be able to provide a large print version of the menu.

However, Matt doesn’t let anything hold him back (if you need proof, watch this) and knew there had to be a simple way to prevent this unnecessary situation from happening.

The Good Food Talks app solves this problem by providing users with a menu in their pocket that harnesses smartphone features. The user can search for a nearby restaurant and use VoiceOver to navigate and read menu items aloud. For those who don’t need VoiceOver, but just need an easy-to-read menu, users can increase font sizes using Dynamic Font, switch to high contrast mode and even use an OpenDyslexic font that is easier on the eyes for people with dyslexia. What this means is a new level of independence in an otherwise demoralising situation.

This project has been a huge learning curve for all of us, however, we are proud to have worked with Matt to develop this app. My family has a history of hereditary visual impairments, and this is something that has a growing impact on me, and those closest to me. I would like to think that life can be made a bit easier using technology we already have in our pockets.

We are excited to have built a level of knowledge and awareness for accessible app development, and there are a few take-aways that we can apply to future projects:

  • When developing accessibly, there is a whole new level of interaction to consider for blind users, including a new set of gestures to control and navigate the app, and this needs to be carefully thought out.
  • Keep the need to enter text to a minimum, since small or virtual keyboards can be difficult to use
  • Provide large finger targets for on-screen buttons or links
  • Ensure that text can be enlarged and different levels of contrast can be applied
  • Always use text labels to supplement images and buttons, so that they can be picked up by screen readers for VoiceOver
  • Test with real users and watch how they interact with the app

Lot’s of restaurants are now getting on board with Good Food Talks to ensure an equal experience for all of their customers, including Nando’s, Pret a Manger and Babylon, and we look forward to working with Good Food Talks with lots of future developments and hopefully an Android app very soon!