A Guide to Making Your Mobile Devices More Accessible
Technology is getting smaller and faster every day and leaving the blind and visually-impaired further into the dark. There are apps available to keep you in the light; you just need to know where to find them. This page will explain the best accessibility applications, how they work, and where to find them once they're installed onto your device.
Before we get started, it is a good idea to determine what operating system is running your device. There are two; Android and Apple. Android is open to third-party developers and therefore is more customizable and has a great deal more free applications to download. It also have a greater range of smartphones and tablets to choose from, though some are more expensive than others. Some also run earlier versions of the Android operating system.
I personally recommend that, if you choose an Android device, you choose one with a version of at least 4.0 or greater because accessibility is nearly nonexistent in older versions and the apps I explain below will not perform as well as they should. I also recommend that, when purchasing an Android smartphone, you purchase one with a screen size at least four and a half inches or bigger. Screen magnification was not added to Android until version 4.2, If you cannot find an affordable phone or tablet with Android version 4.2, keep reading and I will tell you about many free applications that will help make your device more accessible without screen magnification.
Apple has more strict rules for their third-party developers, though there are still many free applications available for download. Since only their devices run their operating system, their devices are much more expensive, however their accessibility features are amazing!
The Basic Settings
These settings don't have much to do with accessibility, but they are still invaluable to imoroving it. They are located in the Display section of the Settings menu.
- Brightness - Things are easier to see when they're brighter. Follow these steps to brighten your device's screen.
- Find the Settings icon on your device and touch it.
- Locate the Display menu item.
- Find the Brightness menu. A dialog box will appear with a checkbox and a slider in it. A slider is just a thin line with a circle or some other shape somewhere on top of that line. If you are using your device for the very first time, that shape would be right in the middle of that line, so your brightness would be set at 50%.
- If there is a check mark inside the box, tap the box to remove it. This will allow you to control your screen's brightness. If you leave the box checked, your device would dim or brighten your screen depending on the brightness or darkness of your surroundings. This can be a pain because it will make everything on your screen less clear and any text harder to read.
- Drag the slider to the far right of the line until you can't drag it anymore and touch the "OK" button to save your settings.
- Font Size - Changing this option will make your menu items and other things bigger and easier to see. Which fonts are enlarged and how much varies from one device to another. For example, the font size of your menu items might be bigger, but the font of your text messages may still be too small to see. By contrast, the size of your text messages will grow tremendously.
- Wnen the Brightness dialog box disappears and you can see the entire Display menu,
touch the Font Size menu item.
- Another dialog box will appear with a list of items inside it. Select the option
- Touch the "OK" button to close the box. You should notice a difference right away.
- TalkBack - TalkBack's guestures can be tricky to learn. I haven't mastered them all yet, but I will describe them to you the best I can.
What I've described above are the parts I understand most. To see the full list of gestures, visit this Android Support question.
- Tap the screen to select an item and have it read to you
- Double-tap the screen to interact with the selection (i.e. press a button, open an app, follow a link, etc.)
- Swipe right to move to the next item on the screen
- Swipe left to move to the previous item on your screen
- Swipe up or down to quickly scroll through lists and web pages
- Touch Zoom
I've used these steps more than any others when I use Touch Zoom. If you would like to learn more, visit Google's support page for this feature
- Triple-tap the screen to activate Touch Zoom
- Drag two or more fingers to pan across the screen and see different parts of it
- Pinch or spread two or more fingers to increase or decrease your magnification level
- Color Adjustment - This one is interesting; I've only encountered it in Android version 5. Once you've activated it, you can scroll through what looks like a box of M&M's or Skittles. Doing this will add a color overlay to your screen, so I'm guessing this feature is for the colorblind because you can choose a new color scheme that is easier for you to see.
- Invert Colors - When this switch is turned on, the background will be darkened and text and other items will be lightened, or their colors will change. The effect is similar to the Reverse themes available on this site.
Further Improving the Appearance of Your Phone or Tablet
- Go SMS
- Tap the Menu icon and select "Settings" from the options menu.
- Scroll from left to right in order to activate the Advanced Settings menu.
- Tap the option labeled "Appearance Settings". Unlike the other applications discussed
on this page, we need to take multiple options into consideration:
- Conversation List: a list of all the people you've ever texted. This is the
first menu you see when you open Go SMS.
- Conversation: When you tap on a person's name in the Conversation List, it
will bring up each text message the two of you have ever shared. This collection
is called a Conversation, or Thread.
- Popup Window: This screen will appear as soon as you recieve a new text message.
- Tap the option labeled "Conv. List Customization". A preview of your conversation
list will appear with several options below.
- I have a rule of thumb about Go SMS customization - it's a sort of extension of
rule - don't mess with the background - simply change the font color and the font
size.Keeping that in mind, tap on the Contact Font option.
The Go Dev Team has taken a little pity on us and given us a little more than a
tiny green dot to work with - this time it's a small white circle on a grey and
- Drag that little white circle as far as it will go on the slider. This should make
the text as big as it can get.
- Tap the back button once to apply that setting. Your preview should reflect the
- Take a moment to think about your theme - is it mostly dark colors or light colors?
If it is mostly light colors, you will want dark text; if it is mostly dark colors,
you will want light colors. Now tap on the Contact Font Color option. This time, there are three sliders, each
representing the RGB (red, green, blue) color model. If you want white text, drag
each slider all the way to the right. If you want black text, drag each slider all
the way to the left.
- Repeat steps 7 and 8 to change the font size and color of your Time and Message
- Before it will let you exit the Conversation List Customization menu, Go SMS will
have you save your settings. Tap the "New" button because you have no other user-defined
settings on your phone. When the text box appears, give your settings a simple name,
like "Big", and then touch the "Save" button.
- Go Keyboard
- Open your App Drawer. Like your phone's Menu button, its appearance varies from
one device to the next. It may also look different if you are using a Go Launcher
- Find and tap your Settings icon. Like the App Drawer and Menu icons, its appearance
varies, but it is usually represented by a gear or two.
- Scroll down until you find the submenu labeled "Language & Input" and tap it.
- Check under the "Keyboard & Input Method" heading and make sure Go Keyboard is on
- If there is no check mark to the left of it, it's not activated. Tap the checkbox
to place a checkmark inside and activate it.
- Above your list of installed keyboards is an option labeled "Default". Tap it and
select "Go Keyboard" from the list.
- Go Launcher EX
That's it for the Visual Settings. Now I'll show you how to customize just how many
icons can be on your screen, and how far apart they are.
- Tap your phone's Menu icon. When the options menu appears, tap the icon labeled
- Tap the first option, which is labeled "Visual Settings". Swipe your fingers
from left to right across the screen to activate the Icons tab.
- Tap the option labeled "Icon Size" and select "Custom Size" from the list of options.
- A scrollbar will appear. Press the little green dot that represents the current
size of your icon and drag it to the far right of the line and press the OK button.
- If you wish to show and customize Icon Labels (they display the name of the application
the icon represents), scroll from right to left until the Font tab is active.
- Tap the option labeled "App Name Size, select Custom Size, and drag the slider all
the way to the right, as described in Step 4, and click the OK button.
The Dock - the black bar at the bottom that holds your Phone app, contacts app,
app drawer, messaging app, and browser app (in that order) - isn't all that important,
but Go Launcher extends it so that there can be 10 icons, or two rows. In the Appearance
Settings menu, the dock settings are right below the "Show Label Background" option.
- If you're still in Visual Settings, press the Back button - the button to the right
of your Home button - once to return to the Preferences menu.
- Tap the Appearance Settings menu. Tap the menu labeled "Grid Size" and make sure
the option "Standard (4x4)" is selected. If you have, or want to turn on icon labels,
this will make them as clear as possible, though they still may overlap one another.
- Make sure "Show Icon Labels" and "Show Label Backgrounds" are checked.
- Tap the option labeled "Dock Row" and select 1 from the list of options.
- Tap your Back button to apply the changes.
- SpeakToIt Assistant - SpeakToIt Assistant is like saying "OK Google..." for Android, using Siri for iPhone, Cortana for Windows, or Alexa for Amazon Echo.
- How to Use Your Assistant
- Make sure you are are on the screen your assistant's avatar is on.
- Touch your assistant. The application will open, and he or she will say something like "How can I help you?" I am not sure if there will be a beep afterwards, or if you have to tap the microsoft icon. Either way, that beep lets you know that your assistant is listening.
- Ask it anything! Here are some examples:
- "Call Mom."
- "Text Dad." Your assistant will then ask you what message you want to send him.
- "Do I have any new emails?
- "What's the weather like today?
- "How do I use the TouCan can opener?"
Apple accessibility is ridiculously simple, but I think its simplicity is part of what makes it so awesome.
As in the Android operating system, Apple has several features that will make small changes to your device that will improve its accessibility in a big way. These are all under the Accessibility menu, as well.
- Larger Text - You can easily increase your device's font size using this menu. If you still find it difficult to read even the enlarged text, turn on the "Larger Accessibility Sizes" option. This will increase the maximum value of the slider and allow you to make fonts even bigger.
- Bold Text - Turning this option on will make menu items and other text bolder and easier to read
- Button Shapes - I don't see much of a difference when I enable this setting, but the Button Shapes settings appears to make it easier to differentiate between normal list items and items with sub items.
- Increase Contrast - This menu item has three settings that will increase your device's contrast. Though I've been playing with them, I haven't seen much of an effect on my iPod.
- Reduce Transparency - Reducing transparency makes text easier to read on apps or web pages with semi-transparent backgrounds.
- Darken Colors - I have noticed a change in my blue back button when I turn this option on. Maybe it doesn't work on black, but instead makes other colors easy to see. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure.
- Reduce White Point - Enabling this option makes bright colors appear less intense.
VoiceOver is similar to Android in its gestures, and there are fewer to get to know. It has many settings to play around with; I don't know much about them to explain them here.
- Touch - Select the item under your finger
- Double Tap - Activate the selected item, i.e. app, button, link, etc.
- Flick Right - Select next item
- Flick Left - Select previous item
- Flick Down - Move to next item using Rotor setting
- Flick Up - Move to previous item using Rotor setting
- Three-Finger Flick Right - Scroll left one page
- Three-Finger Flick Left - Scroll right one page
- Three-Finger Flick Down - Scroll up one page
- Three-Finger Flick Up - Scroll down one page
- Two-Finger Flick Down - Read page starting at selected item
- Two-Finger Flick Up - Read page starting from the top
- Two Finger Scrub - Escape from current content
- Rotate Clockwise - Select next rotor setting
- Rotate Counterclockwise - Select previous rotor setting
- Pinch Close - Unselect text
- Pinch Open - Select text
Zoom is very easy to use. Here are the steps to activate, increase magnification, and navigate your screen.
- Activate Zoom - Double tap with three fingers
- Increase Magnification - Double-tap with three fingers and drag up to increase magnification
- Decrease Magnification - Double-tap with three fingers and drag down to decrease magnification
- Navigation - Drag with three fingers to pan around your screen
- Zoom Context Menu - Triple tap with three fingers to show the context menu
Note: I find it easier to decrease the magnification than using the double tap with theee fingers and drag method.
Activating this option makes backgrounds dark, text light, and changes the background colors of switches.
Grayscale removes all color from the device, making it easier for the colorblind to use.