When it comes to determining which phone or digital device you will invest in, it can feel as if you have both too many choices and not enough. While at first glance these statements may appear to be antithetical, they can each be true.
Android Versus Apple Operating System
Sure, the market is flooded with phones made by well-known companies like Apple, Samsung, LG, Nokia, and more. Yet, in reality, there are only two operating systems:
- iOS, which Apple developed exclusively for its own mobile devices
- Android, by Google, which is shared by all the other companies
Without getting too deep into the technological weeds, operating systems are best described as the primary software program that comes preloaded on a given device. The operating system permits the various smaller software programs (and the hardware that you purchase) to interact and function.
Of course, there are some differences of opinion amongst consumers about which of these systems are better, but those who prefer Android cite its vast freedom of choices. Due to the shared nature of Android, the companies who develop new phones that use the platform can adapt its various functions and designs. This encourages and celebrates variety.
The differences between the two operating systems also extend to software updates and app availability. Because Android is an open-sourced platform, there are many more apps. However, there is also no singular customization that can be applied across all of the developers and manufacturers, which can be frustrating at times.
Regardless of your preference for either iOS or Android, the developers of these products have been intentional, strategic, and creative in making their devices effective and user-friendly for visually impaired customers, both in the privacy of their own homes and while at work or out in public.
How Android Devices Can Aid Visually-Impaired Users
Google Accessibility Menu
Because Android phones aren’t all manufactured in the same way, not every device offers identical features. However, Google has created some preset options that come with the operating system and work immediately “out of the box” on all Android devices.
One such program is Google’s Accessibility Menu. In this menu, users can configure the way in which information is displayed on the screen. This menu allows a person to enlarge images and text, as well as to create swipe shortcuts that magnify the screen. A user can also set up verbal commands to perform these actions, if they’d prefer.
Android Accessibility Suite
Originally known as Google TalkBack, this program provides spoken notifications for visually impaired users. There are numerous features that the software offers to be able to achieve this goal. For example:
- When a user slowly drags a finger across the screen, TalkBack announces the icons, buttons, or links that are encountered. Double-tapping will put that feature into operation or open the desired page or app.
- The screen will recognize various gestures. This allows a user to swipe instructions to the phone and engage with information in a more direct or linear fashion. Users can even create their own rules for these gestures.
- One of these gestures can tell your device to read the text on the screen to you.
- TalkBack also offers a braille keyboard for users.
Another function that can be implemented via the Accessibility Menu of every Android phone is Google Assistant. Assistant is Google’s software bot that is designed to interact with you much like a personal assistant would.
Google Assistant runs through verbal instructions and is a task-oriented AI program. The AI can find and gather information for you, remember details you don’t have the margin to write down, browse and read articles, emails, or texts to you, and can even perform various functions for the phone like changing volume settings or going into a power-saving mode.
While some might think of Google Assistant as another set of hands, it also offers another set of eyes and a voice.
Google Play Store Apps
As accessible as Android has become for low-vision individuals through the development of TalkBack and Assistant, there are numerous apps just a touch of the screen away that offer even broader flexibility.
The Google Play Store boasts more than 2.5 million apps that have been developed by third-party contributors, and some of these are specifically designed with blind users or low-vision users in mind.
Lookout by Google is an app that engages the phone’s camera to perform various sight tasks for users. Lookout can identify the labels on packaged foods or currency. It can read documents to the user. The camera can even inform you about objects that may be nearby.
Be My Eyes uses volunteers or company representatives to assist low vision users. Most apps for the visually impaired attempt to leverage technology alone, but Be My Eyes has devised a plan to use these devices for what they were originally intended: Connecting people. The software utilizes a live streamed feed that connects the user to a person that can provide details about whatever the camera is seeing.
AMagnify is an app named perfectly for the function it performs, which is to enlarge things in the viewfinder.
Commandr is an app that increases the number (and type) of voice commands available for your device.
Granted, this article does not highlight every app (we do so here) available to visually-impaired individuals on Google’s app ecosystem. Developers are continuing to develop innovative digital aids for low-vision consumers every day.
- Brown, Shelby. “Mobile apps give the blind and visually impaired a new sense of freedom.” CNET, https://www.cnet.com/news/mobile-apps-give-the-blind-and-visually-impaired-a-new-sense-of-freedom/. Accessed 2021 January 09.
- “Android for Mobile Phones and Tablets: Considerations for Users with Visual Impairments and Blindness.” American Foundation for the Blind, https://www.afb.org/blindness-and-low-vision/using-technology/cell-phones-tablets-mobile/android-mobile-phones-and. Accessed 2021 January 09.
- “Best Android Apps for People with Low Vision.” American Foundation for the Blind, https://www.afb.org/aw/17/2/15364. Accessed 2021 January 09.
- “Android Accessibility Help.” Google, https://support.google.com/accessibility/android#topic=6007234. Accessed 2021 January 09.