The Android mobile operating system is gaining more and more popularity, including among users with visual impairments. Nevertheless, a large assortment of devices under its control often confronts the potential buyer with the dilemma of choosing the optimal device. For users with disabilities, the question of the availability of a particular smartphone also arises. Here we will try to highlight the main points that you should pay attention to when choosing an Android device for further non-visual use.

Keep in mind that even full adherence to all the recommendations does not guarantee a successful purchase and all responsibility for the purchase, in any case, lies with the buyer himself.

Required minimum

First of all, it is important to understand that not every version of Android OS has accessibility support. In addition, with regard to Android, there is such a phenomenon as modified versions of the system.

Many smartphone manufacturers develop their own versions of the OS, adding original features there. Such versions are called “custom” (from English custom – special, made to order). For example, one of the most famous is the HTC Sense shell, which comes with Android devices from the Taiwanese manufacturer High Tech Computer Corp.

When using a modified version of Android, there is no guarantee that accessibility features will be available. In particular, it may lack the TTS Extended component, without which speech synthesis is impossible.

Hardware controls

Android devices are quite diverse. They can be equipped with at least physical keys, or have a full-fledged hardware QWERTY keyboard. Due to the low accessibility of touch controls, it is desirable that the physical keys are to the maximum.

Android devices can have the following hardware controls:

  • Call key,
  • End key,
  • Back key – back
  • Menu opening key,
  • Home key – home
  • Search key
  • Camera key,
  • Volume keys,
  • On / Off key (Power),
  • Joystick, trackpad or trackball,
  • QWERTY keyboard.

The set of these controls can vary greatly on different devices. Also, some of the smartphones have special touch keys, the so-called capacitive keys. Usually they are not recognized tactilely, as if they are part of the screen, but in fact they are a separate touch element that cannot be removed or dragged. These can be, for example, keys for instant access to the Internet or a social network client. In terms of accessibility, they are not a big problem if you remember their location. It’s just useful to know about the possibility of such a screen configuration. This can be especially important for visually impaired users, so that they do not have the wrong idea about the actual size of the display.

Existing screen readers

At the time of this writing, there are the following screen readers for Android OS:

Mobile accessibility

Commercial screen reader from Codefactory, distributed at a price of € 69. Also has a 30 day trial period. If you need to use several language versions, you need to purchase each separately.

Of the features, we can note an attempt to implement a virtual keyboard, which in some cases makes it possible to do without hardware keys for entering text. In addition, it comes bundled with a number of applications that provide 100% access to a number of basic functions.

Unfortunately, at the moment it does not provide an opportunity to work with Russian-language information.

Minimum system requirements: Android 2.1 Eclair, and 2.2 Froyo to use the speech recognition functionality.

Spiel

Non-profit screen reader.

Interacts with the standard TTS-interface of the system, which allows the use of Russian-language speech synthesizers even in a situation of lack of localization.

Has the implementation of the functionality of writing custom scripts to increase the accessibility of objects on the screen, as well as their centralized storage.

Unfortunately, it cannot do without a hardware QWERTY keyboard.

Minimum system requirements: Android 1.6 Donut.

Talkback

A non-commercial screen reader directly from the developers of the system. Pre-installed on many devices.

Interacts with the standard TTS-interface of the system, which allows the use of Russian-language speech synthesizers even in a situation of lack of localization.

Unfortunately, it cannot do without a hardware QWERTY keyboard.

Minimum system requirements: Android 1.6 Donut.

All existing screen readers and speech synthesizers are available in the Android Market .

Summary

In general, when choosing an affordable Android smartphone, you should be guided by the following parameters:

  1. The presence of a QWERTY keyboard.
  2. The maximum number of hardware controls, with a navigation nature mandatory.
  3. Preferably the original, not a custom version of the system.

Some available phones

Below is a list of some Android devices that have been tested for accessibility to visually impaired users. This information is provided for informational purposes only and is not of an advertising nature.

The absence of any device in this list does not mean that it cannot be used without visual aid, nor does the opposite guarantee full availability. When making a purchase of any of these devices, the user does so solely at his own peril and risk.

Unfortunately, this list is based on market conditions as of 2010, so many later models available may not be included.

  • Htc dream
  • HTC G1
  • Lg ally
  • Motorola Droid (USA) / Milestone (Europe)
  • Motorola Droid 2
  • Samsung Epic 4G
  • T-mobile g2

Some devices already have Talkback preinstalled, while others may need to preload and install a screen reader before getting started. Unfortunately, even the pre-installed screen reader does not make it possible to activate it without the aid of vision, therefore, in order to start using the device, visual control is required.

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