Google’s Android operating system has in the last couple of years become clearly the most popular smart phone and tablet system in the world and has a number of accessibility features built into it that with a little work can improve the experience of using an Android device. As Android is an open platform the individual manufacturers can all mod it for their particular market and phone so the instructions may be somewhat different for different users. Samsung puts Touchwiz on Android and HTC the SenseUI which can obscure the available facilities. In addition different versions of Android have different features and settings layouts.  I am using the most up to date version of Android, 4.4.2 on a Nexus 4 phone so your instructions may vary on age and manufacturer.

To get to the accessibility settings:

  1. Swipe down from the top of the screen to pull down your notification pane.
  2. Hit the icon in the top right. This looks like a white square with 6 internal squares and a picture of a person.  The screen should flip around.
  3. Hit the settings button near the top right.  This is 3 sliders with the word Settings.
  4. Scroll all the way down until you get to the System section then select Accessibility.  This is shown as a hand.

You are now in the accessibility section of Android and there are a number of options which could be useful depending on your disability.

TalkBack

TalkBack provides spoken feedback for the blind or with low vision. What it tells you can be changed and includes keyboard echo, describing what you touch, shortcut gestures and an ability for apps to plug into it.  It also includes a spoken tutorial.

Magnification Gestures

This feature allows you to zoom far further in and out than you would usually be able to do by triple tapping the screen. It also allows deeper pinch to zoom and gives you an on screen magnifying glass if you press and hold over what you want to see.  The only places this does not work are the keyboard and the browser navigation bar.

Large Text

This increases Androids default font size by several points.  I do not have visual issues but I have this turned on on my tablet as it makes reading on the screen easier.

Power Button ends call

Usually to hang up a call you need to tap on the screen at a specific point.  If you have navigated away from the phone app (such as when using the speakerphone) this can sometimes be difficult to find or if you  struggle to hit the precise point on the screen, this option allows you to use the power button to end the call.

Speak Passwords

This does exactly as you would expect, it speaks your password as you type it.

Accessibility Shortcut

The Accessibility Shortcut gives you a quick way to get to the accessibility settings. Hold the power button until you feel a vibration and hear a noise then touch and hold two fingers until you get an audio prompt that  you are in the accessible settings.

Text-to-speech system

Android has a text to speech system built into itself which is surprisingly good. Depending on your version of android you may have different versions with different voices, gender and speeds. Because it is built into the operating system almost any part of Apps or programs can be spoken. This is often confused with Talkback which is more for system navigations and controls.

Enhance Web Accessibility

This option if turned on adds several features to Chrome. These mainly include more support for Braille input and output devices and more flexibility for Bluetooth devices. Google does not seem to specify exactly which Braille devices will work but this page has a good listing.

Conclusion

Out of the box a modern Android device is not that accessible but with a few changes to the built in software it becomes much more accessible, particularly to those with visual issues. There are also a number of apps available in the Play Store which can make Android better for your individual needs and we will be covering those in the future.


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