Accessibility on Android: Make Your Device Easier to Use
Android is known for being customizable, whether it’s tweaking without rooting or even rooting your device and doing whatever you want. You’re probably used to digging into your phone’s various menus, but one you might have skipped is the Accessibility section.
Accessibility options are designed to make your device easier to use — while normally associated with making Android more approachable for the elderly or for helping the physically disabled, anyone can benefit from checking out some of these lesser-known settings. Let’s check out what Android has been hiding.
The Services tab is where you’ll find any apps that have requested accessibility access. Contrary to the name, user-installed apps you find here usually don’t have to do with assisting the impaired, but rather enabling unique features.
For example, the excellent password manager LastPass shows up in this menu — to make it more useful on mobile devices, the app will automatically fill password fields if you like. Without this setting, LastPass couldn’t do its job.
As you can see, my other apps in this menu are Greenify, which allows you to hibernate battery-killing apps until you need them, and Pushbullet, an essential app that lets you see your notifications on all your devices . If you install an app that needs to be enabled here, chances are it will let you know. Of course, it never hurts to review what you’ve granted permissions to in the past.
There’s one app that will be here no matter what you have installed that deserves special mention: Google Talkback.
Some accessibility features prove useful even to those who don’t need them; TalkBack is not one of these. Designed for blind or low-vision users , TalkBack will speak aloud content that’s on your screen.
For example, when you place your finger anywhere on the screen, the system will tell you what’s underneath your finger. Once an item is selected, you’ll need to double-tap anywhere to confirm that option. It also dictates what’s going on all around your device — when I took a screenshot for the article, it said, “saving screenshot,” for example.
Scrolling through a list requires two fingers, since a single finger slides around to find objects on the screen. Various context menus can be launched by using specific gestures, and options are available to customize your experience. Please note that using this tool will speak aloud all content you work with on your device, so be conscious about dealing with sensitive info such as credit card numbers when around others.
If this is a feature you need to use your phone, you’ll be greeted by a helpful tutorial before you get into using it. Anyone else, though, should probably leave TalkBack off.
Available in Android 4.4 KitKat and above, this feature enables captions for videos on a system-wide basis, supposedly. When testing, though, YouTube did not display captions and I couldn’t find any apps (voicemail, Play Store game videos, or Google audio cues) where this option actually made a difference.
If you’ve used captions on your Android device and have found how they work, please leave a comment below, as this one puzzles me.
Many Android apps let you pinch to zoom, especially those that often require a closer view (such as your photos ). However, there might be times when you want to zoom somewhere in the menus or in an app that doesn’t natively support scaling, like Instagram. For those times, the magnification gestures option is there to help.
With this option enabled, a triple-tap anywhere on the screen will zoom in and allow you to pan the screen around. As in other applications, you can pinch to adjust the zoom level. If you’ll just be taking a quick glance, hold your finger on the screen after the three taps and it will snap back to normal when you release it. For an extended stay, perform the taps and keep your finger off for a moment and it will stay enlarged until you tap again.
This special zoom won’t work on the keyboard or notification drawer. It’s a neat little trick to try out, but unless you need it for visual reasons, you shouldn’t leave it enabled all the time. Games can’t filter out the command for this feature, so when you’re jamming out to some awesome Android games suddenly zooming in will ruin the fun.
This option is pretty self-explanatory; if you’d like the text to be bigger across your device, enabling it will make for less work on your eyes.
Those who have trouble seeing or need to use reading glasses will appreciate this one. It’s also nice to have a single setting, as opposed to changing the size on a per-app basis. For more customization, you can also try changing your fonts .
For this to take effect, you’ll need to be using TalkBack. By enabling Speak Passwords, TalkBack will announce passwords you type letter by letter just like it does other content. Obviously, this should be used with extreme caution, as having your sensitive info proclaimed to those around you could prove to be a terrible problem. You’ve taken the time to create a strong, memorable password ; don’t hand it over to someone by mistake!
Note that if you don’t enable this option and you’re using TalkBack, your passwords will only be spoken if you’re using headphones.
We’re developing a theme here: many of these options revolve around TalkBack, as it is the most radical accessibility option available. Enabling this shortcut lets you switch TalkBack mode on by holding the power button for a second until you hear a prompt, then holding two fingers to the screen. It’s useful if you have multiple users on your device and one of them needs access to TalkBack.
There doesn’t seem to be an accompanying shortcut to disable the accessibility mode, so make sure you know how to navigate in TalkBack before you turn this on.
Here, you can view settings for your phone’s speaking text aloud (such as in the Google app or when using Maps navigation ). If you’d like the voice to speak faster or slower, you can adjust that here. Those who are learning a language with their phone might want to change the output language for some practice.
Google’s default text-to-speech engine is pretty good , but if you’d like to install a replacement, you can switch to it here; some devices may already have an alternate engine waiting for you.
Touch & Hold Delay
Long-pressing is a basic action on Android devices , but some users might have problems getting it to behave correctly. If you need a little extra time to select items by holding your finger on them, use this option to increase the delay so you’re not selecting objects by accident.
Android is for Everyone
Accessibility options might not be the most exciting thing in the world, but they’re important so that everyone can enjoy Android. If you don’t need these tools, be thankful — and don’t forget that some of these can be utilized even if you don’t need them! If you do need to use some of these, hopefully you benefited from these explanations, and it’s awesome that you can still use your device unhampered.
How have you benefited from accessibility options on Android? Are there any cool options from a different manufacturer I didn’t include? Let me know how you utilize accessibility by leaving a comment below.