This cofounder made his app more accessible to vision-impaired users in honour of his blind father

Justin Rosenstein co-founded the productivity software company Asana in 2008, his father had one request: that he, as a blind person, could someday use his son’s creation.
On Tuesday, Rosenstein honored that request, with the announcement of a new Asana update, which includes enhanced support for VoiceOver, the Apple accessibility feature that aids visually-impaired people in using their iPhones and iPads without seeing the screen.

The app update will be available on September 19, when Apple releases its iOS 11 update to all iPhones and iPads as a free download.

VoiceOver is a screen reader, which means it gives an auditory description of what’s happening on a device. It can be used with all iPhone-native apps, like the Weather app, as well as on external apps.

However, it only works as well as the information it has access to. External apps don’t always have thorough enough meta descriptions to be useful for someone who is vision impaired.

Asana, which is primarily used for collaborative project management, prides itself on being intuitive to use for most users, but it relies heavily on visual cues — such as pop-up buttons to prompt a new action. This creates a barrier when trying to use the platform with an accessibility device.

To make its app more friendly to blind users, Asana added text descriptions to all of its visual elements, like buttons and text fields, and added what is commonly called “accessibility hints.” These are textual cues that say what the next sensible action is, or what will happen if they take an action.

AsanaColour coding proved to be a challenge for many users with colour blindness, so Asana added an alternate colour palate that makes the app more accessible to some of those users.

Earlier in the year, the company also added features which make it easier to use for people with colour blindness.

Since all iOS devices come with VoiceOver, the biggest barrier to widespread access is whether or not companies decide to put the time into optimising their products. In many cases, it’s as simple as taking the time to add text descriptions.

Asana has 25,000 paying customers, the company said, and more than two-thirds of those customers use the mobile app. While the company didn’t share how many of its current users are visually impaired, chances are, it’s not very many.

As of 2015, just 1.9% of people ages 18 to 64 in the US had a visual disability, according to the Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University. However, only 41.8% of that population was employed.

It’s likely, however, that most of those users are on iPhones or iPads. Data on the use of accessibility aids is scarce, but a 2015 WebAIM survey found that around 70% of the blind smart phone users surveyed are on a device that runs iOS.

Though the blind population is small, many of the major office technologies have made accommodations a priority. Apple lists Dropbox and the Microsoft Office Suite among its most popular apps with a “great VoiceOver experience.”


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