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Guide

Low vision accessibility settings for Android phones

How to make Android phones easier to see and use for students with low vision and hearing loss.

I’ve been using Android smartphones as my smartphone of choice since 2009, as I love having so many options for customization, especially when it comes to low vision accessibility settings. Unlike other operating systems, I can use custom Home Screen launchers, larger font options, and other Google accessibility apps to make my smartphone even easier to use with low vision. Here are my most-used low vision accessibility settings for Android phones and how to enable them.

Choosing an Android Phone

This post assumes that the user has already purchased an Android phone that runs at least Android 8.0 or higher (also known as Android Oreo). I currently use the Google Pixel 5, which is my second Pixel phone, but I’ve also had Motorola, Samsung, and Huawei phones, all of which have comparable accessibility features. To learn more about choosing a smartphone with low vision, I’ve linked a post from my Mainstream Technology and Low Vision series below.

The exact location of the accessibility menu may vary depending on the phone model, but it is located in the Settings application.

Related links

Screen readers

A screen reader is a tool used by people with vision loss that reads information out loud on a webpage or in an application. Screen readers allow users to navigate their device using a keyboard or a series of gestures, and are typically “always on”- if someone has a screen reader enabled, it is reasonable to assume that the user would be unable to use their device if the screen reader were turned off.

Text-to-speech or on-demand screen readers are tools used by people with vision loss or print disabilities that impact the ability to read standard text. They can be activated on an as-needed basis by selecting a shortcut, pressing a button, or using a keyboard/gesture shortcut. Once text-to-speech finishes reading all the information on a page, it shuts off until the user activates it again. Text-to-speech does not use any specific gestures or require the user to change how they interact with their device.

On Android, the screen reader feature is called TalkBack, and the text-to-speech feature is called Select-to-speak.

Select to speak

With Select-to-speak, users can tap the play button to hear everything on the screen, or tap/drag their fingers to select single or multiple items when Select-to-Speak is enabled. This feature is available in all Android versions starting at Android Lollipop (version 5).

To enable Select-to-speak on Android, follow these instructions:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Under the Screen Reader section, turn on Select-to-speak, which is above TalkBack
  4. Activate Select-to-speak by tapping the accessibility shortcut in the bottom right-hand corner of the phone screen.

TalkBack

TalkBack is a built-in screen reader that reads all of the text on the screen, as well as alt text and other navigational elements so that users can navigate their phone without looking at the screen.  TalkBack works similar to other mobile screen readers- it can be used in conjunction with a voice assistant to navigate between apps and input text, or with on-screen gestures. TalkBack can also be connected to a refreshable braille display.

To enable TalkBack:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Under the Screen Reader section, turn on TalkBack, and customize additional settings. TalkBack can also be enabled when setting up a new device

Text-to-speech output

Within the Select-to-speak and TalkBack menus, there is an option for customizing text-to-speech and TalkBack audio.  This includes choosing the language that is used, as well as the speech rate and pitch. Users will need to configure separate settings for both TalkBack and Select-to-speak if they use both programs.

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Display

The Display section allows users to customize the appearance of their device to make it easier to see for users with low vision. There are also third-party applications that can customize their display even further, which I talk about in a later section of this post.

In the Display menu, there are a few different low vision accessibility settings that can be enabled, including large text, making everything on the screen (including text) larger, and adding bold or high contrast styling to text to make it easier to read.

To customize the display on Android phones:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Under the Display  section, open Display Size and Text to customize the display size, font, size, bold text, and high contrast

Color and motion

The Color and Motion section features several different display settings, including system-wide dark mode, color correction, and color inversion.

Dark mode

Dark mode changes the color of applications and system settings to display light-colored text on a dark-colored background, simplifying the color scheme of the device and making it more comfortable to use in low lighting environments. For people who prefer an even dimmer screen, there is also an “extra dim” option for reducing the white point of the device.

Color correction

Users who are colorblind due to deuteranomaly, protanomaly, or tritanomaly can enable color correction to make their device easier to see, or use a grayscale display that removes all color.

Color inversion

Color inversion turns light screens dark and dark screens light, and also alters the appearance of media, websites, and images. This is different from using dark mode, which just shows items on a dark background and may not work across all apps- color inversion can always be used.

To customize display colors

  1. Open Settings
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Under the Display  section, open Colors and Motion to enable dark mode, color inversion, and color filters.

Related links

Magnification

Need to zoom in on the screen? Magnification allows users to quickly zoom in on the screen with the magnification shortcut to display content more clearly. There are two different options for using Magnification on Android, both of which involve a Magnification shortcut that is pinned to the bottom of the screen. For users that want to have multiple accessibility shortcuts (such as color inversion and magnification), a pop-up menu will ask the user which setting they would like to enable.

Enabling the magnification shortcut

To enable the Magnification shortcut:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Under the Display  section, open Magnification and turn the slider on

Zooming in with magnification

To use magnification for a long period of time:

  1. Tap the Magnification shortcut
  2. Tap the screen
  3. Drag two fingers to move around the screen and adjust the viewing window
  4. Pinch with two fingers to adjust the zoom level up/down
  5. Tap the Magnification shortcut again to stop magnification

Zooming in temporarily

To use Magnification for a short period of time:

  1. Tap the Magnification shortcut
  2. Touch and hold anywhere on the screen
  3. Drag one finger to move around the screen
  4. Lift finger to stop magnification

Related links

Interaction controls

The Interaction Controls section has several awesome low vision accessibility settings for Android phones, as they influence how the user physically interacts with their phone.

Accessibility menu

The accessibility menu gives users a large on-screen menu for controlling their phone for people that have difficulty using buttons or gestures that is activated by pressing the Accessibility shortcut at the bottom of the phone screen. Some of the features included in the Accessibility menu are:

At this time, items in the Accessibility menu cannot be customized or rearranged, though their size can be increased within Settings if needed.

To enable the Accessibility menu:

  1. Open the settings menu and navigate to the “Accessibility” section
  2. Under the “Interaction Controls” section, select the option for “Accessibility menu”
  3. Tap the slider to turn the Accessibility menu on or off

System controls

I have a few different system controls enabled on my phone, like pressing the power button to end a call and auto-rotate turned off. There is also a one-handed display mode, which is helpful when I can’t use my arm for a short period of time, such as during a hospital stay.

For users that prefer to navigate their phone with gestures, or even entirely with gestures,  there are several options for customizing System navigation to have three buttons (default), two buttons (which removes the app switcher), and no buttons (exclusive gesture navigation). I personally prefer the two-button navigation, as I do not frequently use the app switcher.

To customize system controls:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Go to the Accessibility section
  3. Under the Interaction Controls  section, open System Controls to customize how the phone is used.

Audio and on-screen text

Audio control settings for captioning, Live Transcribe, and audio description can be enabled within the accessibility menu for users that have dual vision and hearing loss in the Captions section and Audio section. Live Captions will generate captions on the device for phone calls, sound labels, videos, and other environmental noise (i.e dog barking). This is different from the Google Live Transcribe app, a free app that generates a transcript of audio.

When customizing caption preferences, users can select the font size they want to use and the style, such as black text on a white background.

Related links

Further customization

For users that want to customize low vision accessibility settings for Android phones even more, there are several third-party apps available for download that can customize the appearance and functionality of Android phones. I have an in-depth post linked below that covers apps such as Big Font for large print, Microsoft Launcher custom homescreens, AI  Type custom keyboards, and others.

Related links

More resources on low vision accessibility settings for Android Phones

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated July 2023; original post published December 2016

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