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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How do I turn on Android accessibility?

Android phones provide three types of feedback: speech, vibration, and sound. Each complements the others, and all are complemented by additional audible and haptic options through the phones Sound and Display settings. The next few posts discuss these apps and settings in detail.

Getting the basics

The process of setting up accessibility on Android devices is greatly simplified by a series of carrier specific accessibility app installers developed by Apps4Android, Inc. The AAIs are listed in the Market as
• Access for AT&T.
• Access for Sprint.
• Access for T-Mobile.
• Access for Verizon.
• Access for Vodafone.
• Access for Other.
All are by Ideal Group.

With these AAIs, carrier staff and Eyes-Free users can find and install applications that are likely to prove useful, like the Eyes-Free Shell (an alternative home screen) and Intersection Explorer (an accessible map). Users who are not able to go to their carriers can run the AAIs themselves, but they first need sighted assistance to turn on accessibility and install 5 basic apps, which are helpful for acclimating to the phone. All 5 are also part of the AAI process.

The 5 basic apps are free and available through the Android Market. The developer listed is the Eyes-Free Project. Blind and visually impaired users can stop by their carrier’s local stores to ask for help activating the phone, starting accessibility, and installing these apps from the Android Market. Staff will be happy to help though they will probably need guidance from the user about what needs to be done:

Talkback: A screen reader, which provides spoken feedback.

Accessibility Preferences: A set of options for adjusting the behavior of the screen reader.

Keyboard Tutor: An app that announces the names of the keys on the hardware keyboard, the 4 soft keys at the bottom of the touchscreen, and other physical controls, like the volume and camera buttons.

Kickback: An app that provides vibrational feedback as users scroll over controls and activate them.

Soundback: An app that provides feedback in the form of dings and clangs as users scroll over controls and activate them.

Turning on Accessibility

To turn on general accessibility and activate spoken feedback, sighted assistance is required. If the phone is not associated with a user account, sighted assistance is also required to enter the user's gmail address and password and provide other information first. It may be possible to skip this process.

The steps for starting accessibility are the following:

1. Unlock the screen if necessary.
2. While on the Home screen, press the Menu button. This may be a soft button on the touch screen or a physical key on the handset.
3. Find the Settings item and open it by touching it, or navigate to it and press the selector .
4. Find the Accessibility item and open it by touching it, or navigate to it and press the selector .
5. Check the Accessibility option by touching the item or by pressing the selector . If Talkback is not already on the device, doing this may cause the phone to ask if you want to install it.
6. Check the Kickback, Soundback, and Talkback options by touching them or by navigating to each and pressing the selector . If these apps are not on the phone, install them from the Android Market.
7. Return to the Home screen by pressing the Back button several times or by pressing the Home button once. Back and Home may be soft buttons on the touch screen or physical buttons on the handset.

Once Accessibility and Talkback are checked, blind and visually impaired users can operate their Android devices independently. If the phone does not start talking after Accessibility and Talkback are checked, the text-to-speech library may need to be installed.

Setting Accessibility Preferences

Accessibility Preferences not only enables users to change the way the screen reader behaves in certain situations but also places a Restart Talkback icon on the All Applications screen. With this icon, users can assign a quick launch shortcut to Talkback, which can be activated in case the screen reader crashes.

Once users are able to access their devices, they should set their accessibility preferences. Doing so is also a good way to start getting to know Android.

To find and adjust Accessibility Preferences, do the following:

1. Get to the Home screen by pressing the Home button briefly or the Back button for 6 to 8 seconds. Back and Home may be physical buttons on the handset or soft/virtual buttons on the touch screen.
2. Arrow or scroll to All Applications or Sliding Drawer; then press the selector. Note that icons on the All Applications screen are laid out in no particular order on an irregular grid, like the icons on a computer desktop.
3. The first item should be Accessibility Preferences. If it isn’t. Arrow or scroll to it, and press the selector. Note that icons on the All Applications screen are laid out on a grid, like the icons on a computer desktop. Unlike Windows, Android arranges icons alphabetically from left to right and top to bottom, as text in a book.
4. Once in Accessibility Preferences, scroll through your options. They are Talkback Preferences and Keyboard Shortcut Preferences. If Spiel, an alternative screen reader for Android, is installed later, it also appears in Accessibility Preferences. Both screen readers are Available for free through the Android Market. They offer the same general level of accessibility, though Talkback includes a virtual d-pad. The two screen readers have a different set of accessibility preferences.
5. Press the selector on Talkback to review and adjust screen reader settings. Available options for Talkback are as follows:
a. Ringer Volume allows users to decide whether Talkback should speak when in Silent and Vibrate modes. Press the selector, navigate through the options, and press it again to check the one desired. Press the Back button to return to the previous screen.
b. Screen status allows users to decide whether Talkback should announce notifications about new email, available updates, and other activities while the screen is locked. Press the selector to get to the available options, navigate through the choices, and press the selector to check the one desired. Press the Back button to return to the previous screen.
c. Speak Caller ID allows users to decide whether Talkback should announce the caller’s name/phone number for incoming calls or simply ring. Press the selector to check or uncheck this item.
d. Proximity sensor allows users to decide whether Talkback should stop or continue speaking when a finger is waved over the proximity sensor. Press the selector to check or uncheck this item. How close the hand needs to be and what gesture best silences speech seems to vary from handset to handset and even from individual phone to individual phone .
e. Manage Plugins has no options at this time.
6. Press Back once to return to the previous screen in Accessibility Preferences.
7. Scroll to and press the selector on Keyboard Shortcuts to review and adjust screen reader settings. By default, they are all Menu+letter combinations. They can be changed to Search+any other letter. Available options for Keyboard Shortcuts are as follows:
a. Battery Level – Menu+B. To change the shortcut, press the selector on this item. If you wish to use the Search button instead of Menu,press the selector on Modifier, scroll to Search, press the selector on it, and press Back to return to the previous screen. If you wish to change the letter, scroll to B, press the selector, type the new letter in the edit field, then scroll to and press the selector on OK. When you're done, press Back again to return to the Keyboard Shortcuts screen.
b. Time and Date – Menu+T. To change the shortcut, press the selector on this item. If you wish to use the Search button instead of Menu,press the selector on Modifier, scroll to Search, press the selector on it, and press Back to return to the previous screen. If you wish to change the letter, scroll to T, press the selector, type the new letter in the edit field, then scroll to and press the selector on OK. When you're done, press Back again to return to the Keyboard Shortcuts screen.
c. Connectivity – Menu+O. To change the shortcut, press the selector on this item. If you wish to use the Search button instead of Menu,press the selector on Modifier, scroll to Search, press the selector on it, and press Back to return to the previous screen. If you wish to change the letter, scroll to O, press the selector, type the new letter in the edit field, then scroll to and press the selector on OK. When you're done, press Back again to return to the Keyboard Shortcuts screen.
d. Repeat Last Utterance – Menu+R. To change the shortcut, press the selector on this item. If you wish to use the Search button instead of Menu,press the selector on Modifier, scroll to Search, press the selector on it, and press Back to return to the previous screen. If you wish to change the letter, scroll to R, press the selector, type the new letter in the edit field, then scroll to and press the selector on OK. When you're done, press Back again to return to the Keyboard Shortcuts screen.
e. Spell Last Utterance – Menu+S. To change the shortcut, press the selector on this item. If you wish to use the Search button instead of Menu,press the selector on Modifier, scroll to Search, press the selector on it, and press Back to return to the previous screen. If you wish to change the letter, scroll to S, press the selector, type the new letter in the edit field, then scroll to and press the selector on OK. When you're done, press Back again to return to the Keyboard Shortcuts screen.
8. Press Back several times or Home to return to the Home screen. Changes are automatically saved and go into effect right away.

Other settings that improve Eyes-Free accessibility are discussed in a later post.

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