The material provides answers to basic questions on the accessibility of the Android operating system for users with visual impairments and is intended to quickly obtain information on the most common difficulties in mastering this platform for a blind or visually impaired person.

The data is grouped into several categories, allowing the user to choose the most relevant topic for him at the moment.

Wherever it is not explicitly stated otherwise, the text refers to the Android OS from Google Inc.

The material also mentions some specific applications, including those distributed commercially. This information is provided for informational purposes only and is not of an advertising nature.

The absence of any application in the above lists does not mean that it cannot be used without visual aid, nor does the opposite guarantee full availability. When making a purchase or installation of any of these applications, the user does so solely at his own peril and risk.

Sections

  1. General issues
  2. Activation and initial setup
  3. Performing basic actions
  4. Interface customization
  5. Solution of problems
  6. For advanced users

General issues

What are the general ALD technologies supported by Android?

Android by Google Inc .:

  • Reading the screen with only hardware controls (keys, trackball / trackpad joystick) since Android 1.6 Donut.
  • Reading the screen with control including through the touch display, starting from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • Setting font size starting from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • Braille output starting with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
  • Screen zoom starting from Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

Android from Amazon.com:

  • Setting the font size starting with a system based on the Android 2.3 Gingerbread stack.
  • Customizing text color starting with Android 2.3 Gingerbread stack based system.
  • Screen reader starting from a system based on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich stack.

What are the main pros and cons of Android versus Symbian in the context of non-visual accessibility?

Pros:

  1. Lower cost of basic supporting software, which is mostly free.
  2. A more dynamic and competitive assistive technology market.
  3. More specialized software that improves the quality of life for people with visual impairments.
  4. More versatile software accessibility infrastructure: cross-program speech synthesizers, specialized applications interacting with each other, tight integration of screen access with the operating system.
  5. Out of the Box Accessibility – Accessibility can be activated from the device without visual control.

Minuses:

  1. Fewer choice of form factors: there are no smartphones with a numeric keypad, and QWERTY models are rare.
  2. Less productivity of user work in the context of solving elementary tasks, for example, such as simple telephone communication. Especially in the field (public transport, noisy environment, etc.).
  3. Large fragmentation of devices that differ in the degree of availability, along with the lack of clear lists of supported devices.
  4. Often weaker adaptation of speech synthesizers to the specifics of screen readers, since they are supplied separately.
  5. Less documentation of supporting software, if only official sources are taken into account.

However, in addition to the above, there are general pros and cons of these platforms as such, apart from the nuances of their availability.

What are the main pros and cons of Android versus iOS in the context of non-visual accessibility?

Pros:

  1. The ability to operate the device via the touch screen with just one hand.
  2. A wider range of devices, including more diverse in form factors, for example, there are smartphones with hardware keyboards.
  3. Great customization options: a choice of several speech synthesizers and screen readers, scripting functionality for individual screen readers, the possibility of tighter integration of third-party auxiliary software with the system.
  4. The ability to return money for the purchase of any paid application within 15 minutes without contacting the developer, if, for example, it turned out to be unavailable.
  5. The existence of the possibility of replacing almost any interface module with its more accessible, convenient or generally specialized analogue (keyboard, home screen, dialpad, etc.). As a result, the ability to build a simplified interface, which may be useful for the elderly or just not very experienced people.
  6. More active feedback from assistive technology developers.

Minuses:

  1. There is no guarantee of full availability of an arbitrary device.
  2. Less integration of accessibility features into the operating system.
  3. Less documentation of supporting software, if only official sources are taken into account.
  4. Additional configuration required to use a number of features, such as hypertext navigation or braille display.
  5. Less functionality in areas such as text editing, Internet navigation, working with multilingual texts, Braille.
  6. Lack of availability out of the box in Russian.

However, in addition to the above, there are general pros and cons of these platforms as such, apart from the nuances of their availability.

What are the informative sources of data on non-visual work with OS Android in Russian?

In addition to the above, there are some others, but we do not consider it necessary to recommend them due to the insufficiency, in our opinion, of the quality of the information presented in them.

Are there lists of available Android devices?

As such, official lists do not exist. An experienced user can be highly likely to assess device availability based on a number of circumstantial indications, while inexperienced users may be advised to follow community guidelines or use property checklists.

Nevertheless, in the spring of 2013, an attempt was made in the Russian-speaking community to generalize the experience of blind users regarding the availability of certain devices. You can find reviews on some devices in the “Voice of Android” blog .

What screen readers are there for the Android system?

  • TalkBack is a free software developed by Google and is an integrated solution for Android by Google Inc. Provides screen voice access through speech synthesis. The application has built-in Russian localization.
  • Spiel is a free program developed independently of Google by a group of enthusiasts. Provides screen voice access through speech synthesis. The application has built-in Russian localization.
  • Mobile Accessibility is a paid program (price € 69), developed independently of Google by Code Factory. Provides voice and tactile on-screen access through speech synthesis and plug-in braille displays. In addition, it also has a working environment with a built-in set of basic functions. The application has Russian localization as a separate distribution kit.
  • BrailleBack is a free program developed by the Eyes-Free Project (de facto Google) and can work in conjunction with voice screen readers. Provides tactile on-screen access via pluggable braille displays. The application has built-in Russian localization.
  • BRLTTY is a free program developed independently of Google by the enthusiastic BRLTTY Team and able to work in conjunction with voice screen readers. Provides tactile on-screen access via pluggable braille displays and basic voice output. The application has built-in Russian localization.
  • Voice Guide is a free software developed by Amazon and is an integrated Android solution from Amazon.com. Provides screen voice access through speech synthesis. The application does not have Russian localization.

What Russian-language speech synthesizers are there for Android?

As of July 2013, there are the following solutions for the synthesis of Russian speech:

Platform Vote Price
Acapela TTS Voices Alyona 3.30 EUR
Captin TTS Engine Captain Is free
eSpeak TTS ESpeak Voices Is free
Loquendo TTS Olga and Dmitry Warez
Nuance TTS Milena Warez
Samsung TTS Natalia, Katya and Yuri Samsung or warez terms
SVOX Classic TTS Katya and Yuri 2.99 USD
Vocalizer TTS Milena Warez

Activation and initial setup

What is the general algorithm for dubbing an Android device in Russian?

In general, the process involves the passage of the following key stages:

  1. Turning on an unfluorized device.
  2. Walking through several consecutive steps in the setup screen.
  3. Installation from the Play Market or an alternative source of the Russian-language speech synthesizer.
  4. Activation of the Russian-language synthesizer in the speech synthesis settings.
  5. Activate the screen reader in accessibility settings. If more than one screenreader is not preinstalled, then its preliminary installation from the Play Market or an alternative source.
  6. If necessary, additional configuration of system accessibility features in accessibility settings.

If any of the steps have been completed earlier, then they can be skipped.

Is it possible to activate screen reading in Android without visual control?

This feature has been present in Android since version 4.0.

Algorithm for Android 4.0:

  1. Turn on the unfluorized device using the hardware power key.
  2. After a few seconds, the setup screen will be displayed.
  3. On the setup screen, without lifting your finger, draw a rectangle clockwise from the upper left corner of the display, that is, draw from the upper left corner to the upper right corner, from the upper right to the lower right, from the lower right to the lower left and from the lower left to upper left corner.
  4. Follow the voice prompts that guide the user through the accessibility guide and key steps for initial device setup.

Algorithm for Android 4.1-4.2:

  1. Turn on the unfluorized device using the hardware power key.
  2. After a few seconds, the setup screen will be displayed.
  3. On the setup screen, touch the screen with two fingers, spreading them along the edges of the display, and hold for about four seconds.
  4. After a voice message that if you want to turn on screen sound, you should not take your fingers off the display, hold your fingers for a while.
  5. Follow the voice prompts that guide the user through the accessibility guide and key steps for initial device setup.

Correct operation of this function is guaranteed on official Google devices, and on third-party devices, it may not lead to the expected results or not work at all.

Since the Russian-language synthesizer is not preinstalled in most devices, all of the above will happen when using the English-language interface and synthesizer (which should not be changed before installing workable Russian-language synthesizers).

In addition, starting with Android 4.2, in the accessibility settings, you can enable the function of activating the screen reader blind at any time, not just from the setup screen. The switch “Settings \ Accessibility \ Quick start” is responsible for this function.

  1. Press and hold the Power key to expand the shutdown menu.
  2. Touch the screen with two fingers, spreading them along the edges of the display, and hold for about four seconds.
  3. After a voice message that if you want to turn on screen sound, you should not take your fingers off the display, hold your fingers for a while.

How can you customize accessibility features?

All settings related to accessibility are concentrated in the same-named section of the menu: “Settings \ Accessibility”.

In some shells, the section name can be either “Accessibility” or completely “Accessibility”.

Screen access program items are grouped under the heading “Services”, and the general functions of the system under the heading “System”.

How can you customize speech synthesis?

Text-to-speech settings are located in the following paths:

  • Android 2.1 and below: “Settings \ Synthesis of speech”.
  • Android 2.2-3.x: “Settings \ Voice input and output \ Speech synthesis”.
  • Android 4.0 and higher: “Settings \ Language and input \ Synthesis of speech”.

In some shells, Voice Input and Output may also be called Voice Input and Output, and Language and Input may also be called Language and Keyboard.

In addition, on some versions of the system, you can get to the text-to-speech settings section from the accessibility settings section.

How to set up reading hypertext documents?

For accessibility services to have full access to hypertext document content, applications must be allowed to install Google scripts to make the web content more accessible.

The switch “Settings \ Accessibility \ Special web scripts” is responsible for this.

This switch is present in Android since version 4.0. In earlier versions, the accessibility service model for accessing hypertext document content was not implemented.

How can I connect a braille display?

There are three options for connecting a braille display to an Android device: through the free BrailleBack software, through the free BRLTTY software, and through the commercial Mobile Accessibility software.

BrailleBack connectivity has been supported since Android 4.1 and allows the braille display to be used with any voice-activated screen reader. Connection via BRLTTY is supported by default starting from 4.1, but it also works limitedly on 4.0. Like BrailleBack, BRLTTY allows you to use a braille display with any voice-activated screen reader. Connecting via Mobile Accessibility has been supported since Android 2.1, but the display can only be used in conjunction with a screen reader from Code Factory.

In addition, the designated programs differ in the logic of presenting information on tactile displays, the composition of the translation tables included in the set, and the list of supported braille devices.

One way or another, the user is required to independently install the appropriate accessibility service on his device, unless we are talking about a pre-configured and configured device. For example, some mobile operators may offer Android smartphones with Mobile Accessibility preinstalled.

How do I customize Android for a visually impaired user?

To increase the visibility of on-screen information, we recommend that you explore the possibilities of the following settings:

  • Settings \ Display \ Brightness
  • Settings \ Display \ Wallpaper
  • Settings \ Display \ Text Size
  • Settings \ Special features \ Zoom gestures (since Android 4.2)
  • Settings \ Special features \ Large text (since Android 4.0)

Basic tasks solution

How do I move shortcuts across the desktop and between tables?

To move a shortcut on the desktop, you should quickly double-tap the screen with your finger when the desired shortcut is in focus, and, holding the buttons after the second touch, drag it to a new location, and then release it.

If you drag your finger to the left or right edge of the display, the shortcut will be dragged to the previous or next desktop.

Please note that when one shortcut is layered on top of another, a folder will be created in this place on the desktop, into which both shortcuts will be placed.

How do I remove a shortcut from the desktop?

To remove a shortcut from the desktop, quickly double-tap the screen with your finger when the desired shortcut is in focus, and, holding the buttons after the second touch, drag it to the trash can icon that appears, and then release it.

Depending on the shell, the place where the trash can icon appears may differ. You can clarify it in the instructions for the device. On Vanilla Android, the trash can icon is centered at the top edge of the display. For smartphones, this is the place under the speaker.

In Android 4.1, there is no longer a need to precisely drag a shortcut to the trash can icon. It is enough to hold the shortcut and make a quick swiping movement across the screen towards the top edge of the display, as if throwing out the shortcut, and it will be removed from the desktop.

How do I reboot the system without using the touchscreen?

In a situation of failure of the speech synthesizer or screen reader, their normal operation can be restored after the system is rebooted. However, in the absence of non-visual access, this can be problematic on an all-touch device.

To restart or turn off the device without using the touch screen, press the power button for about ten seconds. Theoretically, this may not work on individual devices, but this method is still relevant for the vast majority of smartphones and tablet computers running Android OS.

How do I end a phone call without using the touchscreen?

During a phone call, Android automatically turns off the screen to prevent it from being triggered by unplanned taps. As a result, in order to complete the call with the standard system means, you should turn on the screen, then find and activate the corresponding touch button on it, which, in some shells, may not sound at all.

To simplify this process, you can check the “Settings \ Accessibility \ Power button ends call” checkbox, after which the call can be interrupted by simply pressing the hardware power button of the device.

In addition, you can install third-party software that will expand this functionality of the system by adding your own commands to answer a call, turn on and off the speakerphone, etc.

Interface customization

How do I fix the problem of an unavailable shell?

The shell, home screen, desktop environment, shell or launcher are all terms that denote an element of the Android software infrastructure, which is a variant of the graphical interface that provides access to device functions. The design features of the system allow you to completely change the graphical user interface, which makes it possible to install completely different versions of such shells.

Unfortunately, manufacturers often ship their devices with skins that have accessibility issues for screen readers. In this case, the solution may be to install an alternative shell, which is more friendly to the visually impaired user. After that, the menu for choosing between several shells will be available by pressing the Home key.

The available alternative skins include the following:

How do I fix the problem of an unavailable keyboard?

One of the elements of the Android software infrastructure is the keyboard, that is, the data entry panel that appears on the touch screen when editing fields are activated.

Whereas the default keyboard that comes preinstalled on a device has accessibility issues for screen readers, Android allows you to install an alternative keyboard that is more visually impaired.

After installing an alternative keyboard, you can select it as the default input source in the “Settings \ Language and input” section (the name “Language and keyboard” can also be found).

Alternative keyboards available include:

How to solve the problem of an unavailable dialer?

The dialer, or dialpad, is another element of the Android software infrastructure, which is a numeric keypad for entering a phone number that is displayed on touchscreens when phone functions are activated.

While the standard dialer that comes pre-installed on the device creates accessibility problems for screen readers, Android allows you to install an alternative one that is more friendly to the visually impaired user.

The available alternative dialers include the following:

Solution of problems

What if the installed speech synthesizer does not speak?

Many speech synthesizers require loading voice libraries after installing the main platform. Perhaps only a platform without a voice is installed on the device.

You should try to click on the shortcut with the name of the platform and try to find the voice data download item in the menu.

For example, similar tuning methods are typical for Acapela, eSpeak or SVOX synthesizers.

What if I can’t enter Cyrillic letters when using Mobile Accessibility?

Unfortunately, the Mobile Accessibility virtual keyboard at the time of the release of version 2.05 does not support the input of letters that do not belong to the Latin alphabet.

The solution to this problem may be to use the default keyboard in Android. To do this, in the Mobile Accessibility menu, check the “Settings \ Text input \ Virtual keyboard \ Advanced \ Set system input method” checkbox.

What to do if Mobile Accessibility does not work correctly after launch?

Mobile Accessibility may experience problems when launched simultaneously with other screen readers. Therefore, it is recommended to run it only after the complete unloading of these programs, as well as to reboot the device at the beginning of work, so that all libraries are reinitialized.

What if the screen reader won’t read text messages?

This is one of the bugs in the accessibility functionality of Android below 4.0. Its effect is, indeed, that the screen reader receives text messages that are truncated at about 500 characters.

Unfortunately, the problem is fundamental and cannot be fixed within Android 1.6-3.x. Therefore, it is recommended to use newer versions of the system.

What if I find an error in one of the screen readers?

If you find a bug in one of the screen readers, then it makes sense to report it to its developer.

What if all characters on the virtual keyboard are pronounced with the word “dot”?

These are the security features of secure edit fields for entering passwords. To prevent people nearby from hearing exactly what characters the user enters into the protected editing field, by default all characters on the keyboard are called the word “dot”.

The “Settings \ Accessibility \ Speak passwords” checkbox is responsible for this setting. It is disabled by default. If you check it, the keyboard characters in the protected fields will be voiced in a regular way.

In addition, if headphones are connected to the device, the screen reader will name the keyboard characters in the protected edit fields, regardless of this setting, since in this case, the controlled privacy of the spoken data is thus ensured. This is especially important when a blind user performs the initial configuration of the device on the setup screen. It makes sense to stock up on headphones here in order to solve this problem in the fastest possible way.

In some cases, a checkbox that toggles this setting may be located next to a protected edit field, which will allow you to change its state without going to the accessibility menu.

What if there are no text-to-speech settings in the menu?

This problem is typical mainly for cheap devices with highly customized Android interface. The manufacturer can exclude the speech synthesis item from the general settings panel, assuming that the user does not need it. The consequence may be either the complete impossibility of using speech synthesis, or, in an easier form, the impossibility of accessing the settings of this system function.

Unfortunately, there is no absolutely effective solution to this problem, and in some cases the device may turn out to be completely inaudible. However, before giving up the non-visual use of this unit, you can try the following options:

  • Manually install the SpeechSynthesis Data Installer component of speech synthesis , as well as possibly one of the native voice packages for English ( American or British ), Spanish , Italian , German or French .
  • Install any third-party speech synthesizer.
  • Use the Spiel screen reader, and in its settings, explicitly specify for use some specific speech synthesis system, and not the default system.
  • Use the Mobile Accessibility screen reader, which has a standalone speech synthesizer that is independent of the Android TTS service.
  • Try to open the menu of system settings for speech synthesis from the interface of a third-party application. For example, there are such items in the menu of the Captain synthesizer or the Spiel screen reader.

The list of options for solving the problem is not ranked by importance or sequence. The described actions can be combined or performed independently of each other in any order.

For advanced users

Can I test preview unstable versions of screen readers?

Test builds of TalkBack (and some other Eyes-Free Project / Google Inc. products) can be downloaded from their page at Google Project Hosting .

Snapshot assemblies of the Spiel program are also posted on the developer’s website .

In addition, it is possible to build open source programs from source codes.

Proprietary software, such as Mobile Accessibility, usually has no open unstable builds, and is debugged in internal beta testing.

How can you experiment with different synthesizers without risking losing accessibility as a result of a text-to-speech failure?

To do this, at such times, use a screen reader that does not use the default system speech synthesizer to present screen information.

Unfortunately, the main screen reader TalkBack as of May 2013 does not have this functionality, so the solution is to work with Spiel, Mobile Accessibility or BrailleBack.

The corresponding setting is in them in the following ways:

  • Spiel – “Settings \ Accessibility \ Spiel \ Settings \ Speech \ Speech Engine”.
  • Mobile Accessibility – “Mobile Accessibility \ Settings \ Speech Settings \ Voice”.

How to explain to a developer in technical language how to make the interface of his application more accessible?

As a rule, problems with the accessibility of the interface for screen readers boil down to four aspects:

  • Unsigned controls. The developer should be asked to add a contentDescription attribute to them with text describing the purpose of the element.
  • The inability to navigate through the elements using a physical controller. You should ask the developer to make the controls focusable by calling setFocusable (boolean) or by setting the android: focusable attribute in the XML layout file.
  • Failure to respond to pressing the hardware Enter key while touching the touchscreen is working. You should ask the developer to implement the intended reaction of the application, including the KEYCODE_DPAD_CENTER and KEYCODE_ENTER events.
  • Complete inaccessibility of control elements. You should ask the developer to use the standard visible element classes or, if this is not possible, add AccessibilityEvents dispatch to your custom visible elements.

In addition, if the developer is open to serious collaboration, then you can advise him to read all the accessibility guides in the official Android SDK.

Can I increase the availability of an application myself?

The Spiel screen access program has the functionality of scripts, by writing which you can change the logic for handling AccessibilityEvents in the window of an application. This solution is not a panacea, but in some cases it can provide an opportunity to improve the accessibility of the interface.

JavaScript is used as the scripting language.

You can get acquainted with the brief documentation on the Spiel website or directly from the source codes of the program.

How to manually update official Android manually without waiting for OTA?

If you want to get access to all the latest Android products as soon as possible and technical knowledge allows you to independently update Nexus devices by manually installing factory firmware from Google, then you can download their latest versions from a special page.

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