ACCESSIBLE WEATHER SMARTPHONE APPS


challenge

Smartphones come with native accessibility software, including screen readers, which read aloud the text on the screen.  This becomes problematic when an app was not designed with accessibility in mind. Screen readers read top to bottom and left to right. When the most salient information is towards the bottom of the screen, it can take quite a long time to get to even the first piece of information: the current temperature.  Another factor that can make screen readers cumbersome is when images on the page aren't compatible.  When the screen reader "reads" an image, it says the word "Icon" or "Picture".  Apps that are well designed for accessibility use images that will read as a description or title of the image.  

The current weather apps for smartphones are not usable for visually impaired and blind users.  Many weather apps promote themselves as being "accessible", however, they are extremely inefficient and cause an extremely frustrating user experience. 

Fun Activity: If you've never used your smartphone's accessibility features, try them out sometime!  Turn on the screen reader and see how an app you're familiar with is different in this mode.   

 

process

I completed a Phase 2 of designs for a weather app made by the Georgia Tech Sonification Lab on both iOS and Android to make the task of checking the current and future weather conditions accessible to those who have visual impairments (this includes a range of low-vision to legally blind).  Keeping in mind information obtained from focus groups and surveys conducted in Phase 1, I tested the apps using my Android phone's native screen reader and made simple paper-and-pencil sketches.  Working with two M.S. Computer Science students, I used Proto.io to make an interactive prototype to communicate changes to my teammates.   

 

Design Changes

The original design had a changing background that cycled through different weather themed images.  The intent of this was to make it visually pleasing for users with mild to no vision impairment. However, most of the images chosen did not provide good contrast against the text. To improve this, I chose images with darker colors and used white text.  White text on a dark background provides better contrast for low vision users than black text on a white background. 

 

 

 

 

The green background is an example of one of the previous designs.  Clearly, white text on a bright green background is difficult to read even without a vision impairment. The plain black background is an added feature of the app called "high visibility mode".  In this mode, the background image is completely removed. The weather icons are compatible with the screen reader - they read as "partly cloudy" or "sunny" rather than "icon", as in other weather apps.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solution

The redesigned weather app for iOS and Android work with any smartphone's built in screen reader and have a high contrast mode for low-vision users while being aesthetically pleasing and using UX principles for sighted users.