by Matt May

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March 26, 2014

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

Content in this blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Example code provided is licensed under Adobe’s Creative Commons Plus License.

Last week, at the 2014 CSUN Conference, we were able to give a demonstration of the new accessibility API we’ve been working on for Apache Cordova, better known as Adobe PhoneGap.

PhoneGap uses web technology (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and the operating system’s browser core) to create mobile apps that you can install from your phone’s app store. There’s support for just about any mobile platform you can name, and somewhere around 20,000 apps are currently available. Odds are, you’ve used at least one of them without knowing it.

The accessibility of PhoneGap apps can actually be fairly good, depending on the underlying code used to build it. That’s because mobile browsers already come with a lot of accessibility support on their own, that these apps can use to their advantage. What they can’t do, that other mobile apps can, is ask the operating system if, for example, a user has large fonts enabled, or has colors reversed, or whether the screen reader is running. That’s why we built a Mobile Accessibility plugin, which feeds that information to PhoneGap apps, including notifying those apps when it changes. This plugin allows PhoneGap apps to look and feel even more like native applications by taking into accounts the preferences of the person using the device.

We’ve developed this API publicly on GitHub, so people can poke at it and give us feedback, but also to encourage more development. We started by building support for iOS and Android because, having built-in screen readers, magnifiers and other features, they had the most existing work we could integrate. But there are other platforms, like Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry OS, which run PhoneGap apps and have accessibility APIs of their own, and which could have their own support in PhoneGap using this plugin. It’s on our to-do list, but if you have a more pressing need, you can follow the iOS and Android versions as a model for developing (and hopefully contributing) your own.

If you don’t have software development kits for mobile operating systems installed, but you have a free Adobe ID, you can still try your hand at developing a mobile app of your own. Try PhoneGap Build, our new service that lets you upload the code you want to turn into an app, then builds it for multiple platforms at once. You can even install it onto your test devices simply by entering a URL or snapping a QR code.

If you already use PhoneGap Build, we have even better news: the Mobile Accessibility plugin is now supported in Build, so you can use it like any other core plugin. Documentation is on GitHub, and we’ll be working on other ways to show developers how to improve the accessibility of their applications as time rolls on.