Accessibility on Android: Make Your Device Easier to Use

Ben Stegner 21-02-2015

Android is known for being customizable, whether it’s tweaking without rooting The Best Android Tweaks You Can Make Without Rooting Android tweaks aren't only for tech geeks. Here's how to get the most out of your non-rooted Android phone or tablet! Read More or even rooting your device The Complete Guide to Rooting Your Android Phone or Tablet So, you want to root your Android device? Here's everything you need to know. Read More 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 Larger Icons and Keyboards for a Phone Mom Would Love: Android Can Make the Elderly Tech Savvy The elderly often feel intimidated by new technology. Smartphones in particular did not catch on among the retired compared to the Facebook generation. And for good reason: Tiny screens and keyboards seem designed for addicting... Read More 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.

Note that since Android differs by manufacturer Android Skins Explained: How Do Hardware Makers Change Stock Android? Hardware makers like to take Android and morph it into something that is entirely their own, but is this a good or a bad thing? Take a look and compare these different Android skins. Read More , your phone may have a wider variety of options than the base choices shown here (the LG G3, which we reviewed LG G3 Review and Giveaway Read More , is one such device).


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 The Complete Guide to Simplifying and Securing Your Life with LastPass and Xmarks While the cloud means you can easily access your important information wherever you are, it also means that you have a lot of passwords to keep track of. That's why LastPass was created. Read More 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 Find out Which Apps Are Killing Your Android Battery If you're getting poor battery life on your device, you likely have an app abusing your battery in the background. Find out how to identify those apps and solve your battery problems. Read More until you need them, and Pushbullet, an essential app that lets you see your notifications on all your devices Pushbullet Puts Your Android And PC On The Same Wavelength Find out how you can keep your Android perfectly synced with your PC -- push your phone's notifications to your desktop, share files, and much more! Read More . 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 10 Excellent Resources For Blind & Partially Sighted Users Thanks to technology, the world is smaller. Is it the same for the visually impaired? From the evidence all around us, I believe the answer is yes. Why should it be a surprise that technology... Read More , 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 The 5 Best Ways to Take a Screenshot on Any Android Phone We show you how to take a screenshot on Android. Choose between default shortcuts and apps to capture your Android phone. Read More 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 Don't Wait: 5 Great Android KitKat Features You Could Get Right Now A few of KitKat's coolest features are available right now, either through official APKs or third-party apps. Read More 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.

Magnification Gestures

Many Android apps let you pinch to zoom, especially those that often require a closer view (such as your photos 4 Great Free Alternative Gallery Apps For Android Don't like the default gallery app on your Android device? Here are some fantastic free alternatives. Read More ). 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 20 Best Offline Games on Android That Don't Need Internet These best offline games for Android are from all genres, including strategy, puzzle, racing, and more. No internet required. Read More suddenly zooming in will ruin the fun.

Large Text

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 4 Ways To Change Your Android Fonts Want to change the font on your Android device? Luckily there are a few simple ways to do this and find beautiful fonts in the process. Read More .


Speak Passwords

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 6 Tips For Creating An Unbreakable Password That You Can Remember If your passwords are not unique and unbreakable, you might as well open the front door and invite the robbers in for lunch. Read More ; 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.

Accessibility Shortcut

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 Two People, One Tablet: What Are Your Options? Want to share a tablet between multiple people? Then you need to learn how to juggle multiple user accounts. Read More 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.

Text-to-Speech Output

Here, you can view settings for your phone’s speaking text aloud (such as in the Google app or when using Maps navigation Get There Faster - 10 Google Maps & Navigation Tips Google Maps is still the most powerful mapping service ever, despite what Apple might say. Whether you’re using Google Maps in a browser on your desktop or an app on your mobile phone, Google Maps... Read More ). 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 The 8 Best Language Learning Apps That Really Work Want to learn a language free? These are the best free language learning apps that will have you speaking a new language before you know it. Read More might want to change the output language for some practice.


Google’s default text-to-speech engine is pretty good How to Tweak Google Text-to-Speech Settings on Android Google's text-to-speech on Android has gotten more powerful recently, but you can still tweak it to your needs if you like. Read More , 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 5 Things You Should Do With A New Android Phone Small features can make all the difference in day-to-day use and cool apps will tailor the device to your needs. Read More , 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.

Not the right kind of “easy use” you were looking for? We’ve written a guide for Android newbies New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against Do you have a smartphone that you just can't seem to figure out? Learn the basics and start conquering your Android phone now! Read More and a sequel New To Android? Part Two: Master Using Your Phone Part two of the Android guide for absolute beginners. Get a grip on the basics of using your smartphone! Read More to ensure you can master your phone.

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.

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  1. David Minkanic
    August 15, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    I don't see the point of changing the way volume worked. It looks like a solution to a non-existent problem. Users who listen to high volume on speakers and then plug in earbuds, as in your example, should have someone to manage their phone for them. A far better solution would have been circuitry to regulate media volume to preference. You also failed to mention phone call volume still works as it should.

  2. Kami
    April 4, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    "Accessibility Shortcut" - This has never worked on any device !!

  3. prasetyo
    May 18, 2016 at 7:57 am

    Hi ihave androit kitkat 4.4.2 the problem is there is no 'service'section in accessibility , i can't turn on some app. Help me please ???

  4. Jessica C
    February 24, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Interesting article, Ben! A lot of people take accessibility issues for granted, but not having it can really break the usefulness of the web and mobile apps.

    • Ben S
      February 24, 2015 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks Jessica! The idea is thanks to Justin, but I enjoyed this one.

      I'm thankful I don't have to rely on any of these tools, but I'm glad they're in place and well thought-out for those that do.