Android is a mobile operating system based on Linux and developed by Google that is designed primarily for touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. There is also a variant called Android TV which is optimised for use with a TV remote and voice commands
If you are looking for a budget-priced touchscreen device or TV media player box, most of these devices will be running the Google Android operating system. Google essentially provides Android to manufacturers for free, which is why you’ll find Android running on products from trusted brands such as Samsung, LG and Motorola, but also on lesser-known or no-name smartphones and tablets.
The good news is that as the cheaper products essentially run the same operating system as the popular brands. The more affordable smartphones and tablets are also likely to have the same accessibility features.
Recent versions of Google Android and Android TV come with the following:
- TalkBack screen reader: this enables people who are blind or vision impaired to navigate the device using text-to-speech. The basic functionality of Android is well supported by TalkBack, allowing you to effectively navigate the device and download apps.
- Magnifier: a full-screen magnifier is available to zoom in and out. The magnifier can be used in either full-screen mode or to temporarily zoom-in the area of the screen that is being touched.
- Closed caption support: captioning can be enabled as a global setting meaning it will be displayed at all times if available.
- Switch Access: to translate switch-based assistive technologies into keyboard or touchscreen commands.
- Colour inversion: works by reversing colours and additional settings to improve contrast and assist users who have difficulties distinguishing colours such as red and green or blue and yellow.
- Customised gestures: allows you to change the way that touch gestures work to make the device easier to use.
- Mono audio: allows the stereo effect to be removed, ensuring that all audio information is conveyed to each ear. This helps people who may have a hearing impairment in one ear.
- Speech input: audio commands and searches can be spoken into a smartphone or Android TV remote control. This supportst people with a vision and or mobility impairment who may find it difficult to enter text, and supports people with a hearing impairment by visually showing the text equivalent of the spoken phrase, allowing errors to be corrected.
- Vibration: a haptic vibration of a smartphone or tablet can assist people with a hearing impairment that a notification or action has taken place.
Useful apps that work well with recent versions of Android include:
- BrailleBack: an additional app can be downloaded for free from the Play Store to provide support for Braille displays.
- Project Eyes-Free apps: Google has an initiative that contains a variety of additional apps specifically to help people who are blind or vision impaired. These can be found in the Play Store.
- BIG Launcher: a popular third-party paid app that simplifies the Android user interface to six large buttons with high contrast features and TalkBack compatibility. A free demo is available on the app store.
You can find additional information on the Google Accessibility website.
Availability of Android accessibility features
To maximise the accessibility of an Android device, you should aim to buy a product that has the latest version of the operating system if you can. While the current version of Android is 9.0 Pie, most affordable Android tablets, particularly ones with a lesser-known or no brand name, will have an older version of Android, and upgrading may be difficult.
The following table can assist in making sure you choose the version of Android that best supports your needs.
TalkBack screen reader
Captioned video playback
|Introduction of caption support for Deaf and hearing impaired users|
|5.0 & 5.1 Lollipop||All 4.4 features plus switch key support and colour correction options||Additional support for people with a mobility impairment and people with specific colour vision impairments|
|6.0 Marshmallow, 7.0 Nougat, 8.x Oreo and 9.0 Pie||Similar feature set to 5.1 containing core Android accessibility features||Minor improvements between 6.0 and latest version,|
Enabling accessibility features
The accessibility features in Android smartphones, tablets and TV boxes are generally located in the ’Settings’ section under the subheading ‘accessibility’.
Depending on the version of Android you have, and the way the manufacturer has set up the device, some features such as the TalkBack screen reader may not be installed by default. If this is the case for your device, you can install TalkBack by downloading the Google Accessibility Suite from the Play Store. After this is installed, TalkBack should work correctly.
Once all features are available, each feature can be toggled on or off by swiping the appropriate switch. In addition, turning on the TalkBack screen reader will launch a tutorial to teach you how the ’Explore by Touch’ feature works.