Google: Why Android developers should consider accessibility

Designing for accessibility doesn't just help Android reach the disabled; it helps improve the user experience on all two billion active Android devices.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

With the beta release of Android O, Google this week also rolled out a series of updates to its Android accessibility tools -- services, settings, and APIs that help people with disabilities use the mobile operating system.

Designers should consider accessibility given that one in five people will have a disability in their lifetime, Patrick Clary, product manager on accessibility engineering, said at the Google I/O conference.

That adds up to quite a few Android users, given there are now more than two billion active Android devices across the globe. Accessibility will also help Google extend the OS even farther: 80 percent of people living with disabilities come from the developing world, Clary said.

At the same time, accessibility isn't just about helping the disabled. "Designing for accessiblity is designing for the widest range of abilities in the widest possible range of situations," Clary said.

For example, a design for someone with a motor impairment will also help users who happen to have their hands occupied.

Android's accessibility tools help users change the way they interpret content from their devices or customize the look and feel of their devices. TalkBack, for instance, enables a user to interact with their device using touch and spoken feedback. With BrailleBack, users can connect their phone to a handheld, refreshable braille display via Bluetooth. Switch Access is an alternative to the touch screen for users with limited mobility.

One new feature with Android O is a way to adjust the "accessibility" volume on TalkBack separately from media volume. In other words, if a user wants to listen to a video without interruption from the TalkBack feature, they can turn down the accessibility volume while leaving the video volume on.

The new OS also comes with gestures for TalkBack, which takes advantage of fingerprint sensors on the back of devices. It allows TalkBack users to use gestures -- such as swiping up or down -- to launch specific TalkBack features.

Clary and the Android Accessibility team stressed this week that developers should test accessibility features themselves and ask others with disabilities to try out their apps. They can also download the accessibility scanner from the Google Play store to find ways to improve accessibility on their app.

"Try your app using these services, really put yourself in the shoes of these users," Clary said. "I think you'll be surprised with what you see."

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