The term 'Android’ refers to the group of devices such as smartphones and tablets that run Google’s mobile operating system Android. The operating system can be found on most non-Apple devices produced by manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Sony, Motorola and HTC. Most generic smartphones and tablets also run Android.
The accessibility of an Android device varies significantly depending on which version of Android is installed. Media Access Australia has conducted several reviews of Android, focusing on its accessibility features and applications, and highlighting a number of accessibility issues. The recommendation of Media Access Australia is that people with a hearing impairment should purchase an Android device version 4.4 (KitKat) or later to ensure an effective implementation of captions, people with vision impairments should ensure that the device contains Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) or later to ensure that features such as the screen reader and magnifier are available, and people with a mobility impairment who use assistive technology should ensure that their device contains Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or later to use the Switch Access feature.
The accessibility features available to Android users in recent versions of the operating system include:
- 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 users 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 support across the platform has recently been introduced, although many individual apps such as YouTube also support closed caption playback on older Android versions.
- Switch Access to translate switch-based assistive technologies into keyboard commands.
- Colour inversion to reverse 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: users can change the way that touch gestures work to make it easier to use.
- 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.
The built-in accessibility features can be found in the Accessibility section of the Settings menu. Additional apps can be downloaded from the Play Store. Screen reader users should also note that some manufacturers do not always have TalkBack installed by default, and in these cases TalkBack can also be downloaded for free from the Play Store.
Comparison to Apple iOS
Many people with disabilities considering the purchase of a smartphone or tablet often ask if they should purchase an Android device or an iOS-based device like the iPhone or iPad. Broadly speaking, the Apple products are generally considered to be more accessible and have greater community support, but recent versions of Android have made it a viable alternative for many users due to its rapid and ongoing evolution of accessibility features and its affordability, with smartphones like the budget yet fully-featured Motorola Moto G and sub-$100 Android tablets available from online retailers.
Dr Scott Hollier has provided some useful tips and initial hands-on impressions of the accessibility features available in Android Lollipop 5.0.
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