A blind person can use anything Apple makes that remotely resembles a computer – save for the iPod Classic – immediately and without help from a sighted person. (In some cases, it is somewhat easier to get a sighted person to turn on accessibility, as with a new iPod Nano.) A few other disabilities are almost as well accommodated; a few more are accommodated with effort. But it’s all standard equipment. Not only does everyone just expect it to work, on balance it actually does just work.

A couple of Android devices, running the rarely-seen current version of the operating system, kind of support accessibility. How well? About as well as you’d expect.

  • You need to read the manual.

    I was happy to note that the help documentation for Google Nexus 7 has a section dedicated for accessibility features. Anyone considering a purchase of an Android Jelly Bean device should read through this information.

    What I mean is you have to read the manual before you even start.

  • Your maiden voyage requires special care.

    If you are blind and do not have sighted assistance, don’t be in a hurry to unbox your Nexus 7 and turn it on. It would help to prepare a bit.

    Firstly, you will need to have a pair of headphones ready…. [I]t would help to have a flat surface like a desk. There is a gesture to turn on Accessibility mode which fires up Talkback with Explore by Touch mode active. This gesture is rather unreliable and seems to work best when the device is placed flat on a desk.

  • Two does not equal three and you’d better not forget that.

    You need to touch the screen with two fingers placed slightly apart and hold for four seconds…. Don’t remove your fingers from the screen, and, no matter what you do, don’t let a third finger touch the screen in these few seconds. I did this exact thing by mistake and the device said “cancelling accessibility mode” and wouldn’t talk to me at all for the next three hours no matter what I tried…. As a last resort, you may try the two-finger gesture again a few times. You might just be lucky!

    Obviously two fingers mean accessibility but three fingers mean turn off accessibility for the rest of the day. (Doesn’t that just make mathematical sense? Why are we arguing about this? It’s simple logic, isn’t it?)

  • You have to approach the task of typing in your wifi password with special workaround knowledge.

    When you get to the screen to enter the password for the wifi network, look for the checkbox which says “show password” or “display password” and check it. If you don’t do this, all characters on the virtual keyboard are read as “dot” by Talkback. Unfortunately, when entering your Google account details, the “show password” option isn’t available (for obvious reasons). This is where the headphones come in handy. In order to enter the password with the virtual keyboard, you need to connect the headphones. Once headphones are connected, the characters on the virtual keyboard are announced correctly. Otherwise, you will just hear “dot” no matter which character you touch.

  • Some functions are simply missing.

    • A gesture to pause or stop speech

    • A gesture to read from the current item to the end [including settings screens, only the visible parts of which are read]

  • You can’t really expect to be able to unlock your own device because most of the interface is unlabelled.

    If the Nexus 7 needs a PIN to unlock, the way to enter it is slightly different to the usual way you enter text. On the lock screen, there is an input field without a label and immediately to the right is a button without a label as well. This unlabelled button needs to be activated by double-tapping before entering the PIN. To insert digits of the PIN, just tap the digits on the telephone-keypad-style virtual keypad. Don’t double-tap them…. Even though there is no feedback, the digits are entered.

  • Voice recognition echoes your words back to you while you’re still talking.

    When you are speaking, Talkback will start reading out words as they are recognised by the device and entered in the input field. This can be a bit distracting. And by now you can guess why I suggest using headphones.

  • You can barely browse the Web.

    Talkback now works with Google Chrome…. It does recogni[z]e various HTML elements such as lists, headings, landmarks, and so on, but there is no way to navigate/jump among these. The available reading levels are still character, word, and paragraph. Further, the explore-by-touch feature doesn’t seem to work reliably on a Web page.

    But you can turn on some scripts that might solve part of the problem. (Users are of course expected to reprogram their own devices.)

  • You can’t Twit.

    I was trying to find an accessible Twitter client for Android. UberSocial seems to be the answer, but the app displays timelines in Web view, which makes it a bit difficult to use.

Open is better, and Android is winning.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2012.08.05 15:54. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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