Smartphones

Android accessibility options for vision and hearing impaired

Jack Wallen highlights some of the accessibility options available in the Samsung Galaxy S III and other devices with Android 4.0.

You might have end users within your company that have either hearing or vision issues. For those users, special consideration must be taken to meet their technology needs. The need for accessibility doesn't stop at the users' desktops, because they must be able to leverage technology like any other employee. Thankfully, most smartphones are capable of enabling the user with needs beyond the norm, so that the device works with them, not against them.

The newest iterations of Android (especially the Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S III) offer a number of features that can easily enable the mobile device for those with hearing or vision issues. I want to use this particular device (the Samsung Galaxy S III) to illustrate how Android works when accessibility is in order.

What is necessary

I want to illustrate this for both vision and hearing impaired users. Granted, not all levels of impairment can be overcome, but these options can go a long way to help out many users.

To begin, you'll need a Samsung Galaxy S III with S Voice or an Android 4.0 device with Vlingo installed. NOTE: I've already covered Vlingo in a previous article (see "Get a Siri-like interface on Android with Vlingo Virtual Assistant"), so I won't go into the details for that app.

Built-in accessibility settings

Out of the box, Android 4.0 can do the following:

  • Speak passwords (speak passwords as you type them)
  • Manage call answering/ending (use a physical button to end calls)
  • Screen timeout (how long before the screen goes blank)
  • TalkBack (speak all events that happen)
  • Explore by touch (hear or see descriptions of what you are touching on the device)
  • Negative colors (reverse colors of the screen)
  • Change font size
  • Mono audio (so both channels of audio are routed to single earpiece)
  • Turn off all sounds
  • Tap and hold delay

Let's first examine this to enable the vision impaired to use the Android device. Here's how to make this handset accessible to these users.

Enable TalkBack

  1. Tap the menu button
  2. Tap Settings
  3. Tap Accessibility
  4. Tap TalkBack
  5. Switch the slider to On (Figure A)
  6. Adjust the volume on the device to suit the user
Figure A

There are also numerous settings that can be managed with TalkBack.
Tap the Settings button from within TalkBack to reveal the configuration options available (Figure B). Here you can configure the following:
  • Ringer volume (Speak at all ringer volumes, no speech in silent mode, no speech in silent and vibrate mode)
  • Speak when screen is off (enable/disable)
  • Speak caller ID (enable/disable)
  • Use proximity sensor (enable/disable)
  • Bluetooth output (enable/disable)
  • Feedback settings (enable/disable and assign vibration settings)
  • Sound volume (match speech patterns)
  • Assign sounds (explore by touch and exploring clickable items sounds)
Figure B

TalkBack has plenty of options to configure.

Enable Explore by touch

I'll warn you about this feature first. When you enable Explore by touch, your touch screen no longer responds in the normal manner. Here's how Explore by touch works:

  • Place your finger on the screen and move it about
  • As your finger lands on a home screen item (such as an icon), TalkBack will speak the name of the icon
  • Once you find the icon you want, lift your finger and tap in the same spot
  • To scroll through screens (up and down), do so with two fingers

To enable Explore by touch, do the following:

  1. Tap the menu button
  2. Tap Settings
  3. Tap Accessibility
  4. Tap Explore by touch
  5. Move the on/off slider to On (Figure C)
  6. OK the warning
  7. Walk through the tutorial to learn the finer points of Explore by touch
Figure C

This is one tutorial you'll want your end user to follow.

When using Explore by touch, you don't swipe the lock screen to unlock the device, you have to double tap the screen, hold your finger to the screen on the second tap, and then swipe. It takes a bit of practice, but once you've done it once or twice, you'll have it down.

Hearing impairments

Android doesn't have as many built-in options for users with hearing impairments. Primarily, you can route both stereo channels to one channel, making it possible to better hear using only one ear bud. To enable this, do the following:

  1. Tap the menu button
  2. Tap Settings
  3. Tap Accessibility
  4. Scroll down to Mono audio
  5. Tap Mono audio to enable

There are also a scant few apps in the Google Play Store that can offer various levels of help:

The Android platform is certainly capable of enabling those with disabilities to take advantage of the power of the smartphone. Give these suggestions a try and see if they help your end users who have either hearing or vision impairments.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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