Inaccessible Phone Apps Can Put the Safety of Blind and Low-Vision Users in Jeopardy

Photo of a person with red-painted fingernails holding a smartphone. On the person's torso/hand is showing.

Inaccessible apps can be a hassle for blind or low-vision people, especially if you use a screenreader like TalkBack for Android or VoiceOver for iPhone. As a blind person, inaccessible apps have prevented me from playing games on my phone or sharing photos with friends on Snapchat. And while this may just seem frustrating, there comes a point where lack of accessibility isn’t just inconvenient; it can be dangerous. 

Here’s an example: because my goal is to work in the field of emergency medicine, I often use apps to refresh my first aid skills or educate myself on mental health and emergency preparedness. Some of these apps are inaccessible to blind and low vision users because their buttons are mislabeled, or not even labeled at all. 

In one app that I downloaded for first aid, the button that called emergency services wasn’t labeled. And in another app for mental health, there was a series of buttons that were part of a safety plan where you can input contacts you would call if you were in crisis, but they were all mislabeled. I hit the button that said “import contact,” but it actually called 911. Luckily, a confirmation dialog popped up so I could cancel the call. Had it immediately placed the call, emergency personnel would have probably been sent, delaying help for someone that actually needed it at that time. 

A critical first step toward solving the serious issue of lack of safety due to inaccessibility is ensuring app developers are trained in implementing accessibility. It’s time for app developers, too listen to feedback on accessibility issues from blind and low-vision users and to take it seriously. Remember: apps aren’t all just fun and games. Accessible apps can save a life.

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Saraphia is a blind high school student who is passionate about emergency services, crisis intervention, and technology. In 2019, Saraphia worked as an intern for Rooted in Rights through the YES (Youth Employment Solutions) program in Seattle, which strives to assist blind youth in the development of career skills and independence.