Accessibility and Stickers: Spread the Fun

Everyone seems to be having fun with stickers in iOS Messages, but what if you can’t see them properly?

Jet the Cat waking up from a typically long sleep, have a big, big stretch and then sitting up and listening attentively, possibly to VoiceOver on iPhone
What the user hears is clear, detailed and fun. The accessibility text paints the picture with words, telling us who is in it, what they’re wearing, how they’re standing and what they’re saying. It’s complete and succinct.

VoiceOver

Apple has put a considerable amount of its resources into making its products accessible to those who cannot interact with their phones for whatever reason (including by choice), tablets and computers using the visual prompts on the screen. The VoiceOver feature is one such example and enabling it causes the phone to read out the screen contents and give other spoken prompts.

Changing Mindset

As I started creating sticker packs I saw that this was prominently built in for developers: creating a sticker pack has very few options and boxes to fill, but one of these is Accessibility. I was pleased to see that if this box was not filled, the phone would use the name of the sticker instead so I thought I would simply give my stickers descriptive names and everything would be fine.

But then a tweet from Mikah Sargent (@mikahsargent on Twitter) of iMore tore the rug from under my feet and made me actually look at and listen to what I’d produced. Here’s a sample:

Bo Love, Heart.png

So, the character is called Bo, the sticker represents love and there are hearts. Brief, descriptive and does the job. So, what does VoiceOver say when the user taps on the sticker:

Bo Love, Heart dot p n g. Accessibility label

So, not a disaster but certainly not good. Let’s compare that to what Mikah did with the excellent iMore sticker pack:

Fully adorned in Brazililin Juijitsu garment and stance, Georgia Dow says “Brace Yourself”

Here, if the user taps on the the sticker, the phone says:

Fully adorned in Brazililin J u i jitsu garment and scarves, Georgia Dow says Brace Yourself double quote

So, apart from a bug on Apple’s part, what the user hears is clear, detailed and fun. The accessibility text paints the picture with words, telling us who is in it, what they’re wearing, how they’re standing and what they’re saying. It’s complete and succinct.

I had to change, and spent a morning adding detailed descriptors for (almost) all of our sticker packs, such as these:

Example 1: Penguin Bo

Sticker Pack: Penguin Bo (link)

Original text: Bo bad scale.png

New text: Penguin Bo getting annoyed as he flaps his wings and stamps on the weighing scales

Example 2: Jet the Cat

Sticker Pack: Jet the Cat (link)

Original text: Jet coffee.png

New text: Jet the Cat sniffing the aroma from a hot cup of coffee

Example 3: Garden birds

Sticker Pack: Garden Birds (link)

New text: Mother duck watching over a duckling on the water

We are now much happier with our products and we hope that our customers will be too.

Other People

I then decided to have a look around on the App Store to see what other people were doing. To little surprise, I found that most people seemed to be using the image name as the text. In some cases this was passable, but there were too many that had something along these lines read out by the phone:

stickerimage 1 dot p n g. Accessibility label

Here, the creator had not even given a descriptive name to the file, leaving the user oblivious to the meaning of the sticker. The creators of Mario have gone halfway, clearly using the Accessibility text field, but giving limited descriptions such as “Happy Mario”, “Hi”, “Sad Mario”, “Wink”, etc etc. These get the feeling across in a clear manner, but I feel they don’t share the fun as much, and some don’t even indicate that it’s Mario.

Conclusion

Stickers are fun, so they should be fun for everyone. It’s very easy for creators to add decent accessibility text so if you care about this and love a sticker pack, try contacting the creator to see if they can make the improvements. I’d imagine most artists would not only like the feedback, but would take pride in producing an even more complete product.

I’d like Apple to make stickers searchable by accessibility, but you can always try searching for it as a keyword as some developers are putting accessibility in as a feature.

If you’d like to see more of our stickers, search on the App Store or use this link: http://apple.co/2cYebVz

Some of the characters from our stickers, from left to right with almost all of the jumping for joy: Ella the winged demon girl, a Pommin dressed in blue with pointed hat, a pink seal called Bubble, a red demon ball with wings, Penguin Bo and a disinterested pink cat walking off to the right.

About Our Sticker Packs

We have a number of sticker packs on the App Store now (link to App Store), including:
- Penguin Bo (original characters)
- Garden Birds (drawings inspired from our own and others’ photos) 
- Norma: Vintage Beauty (original character capturing the essence of Marilyn Monroe)
- Jet the Cat (original character)
- Bubble and Mint Seals (original characters)

As well as the StickerFab and InvestCal apps.