Android devices will see several accessibility improvements it has been announced.
During Google’s developer conference this week, several accessibility improvements coming to Android have been announced. It had a heavy focus on blind and low-vision, and d/Deaf and hard of hearing accessibility. The presentation failed to mention several of these improvements can also be very helpful to those with cognitive disabilities.
Improved braille support for TalkBack
First in the video is Nimer Jaber, who works on TalkBack. TalkBack is the screen reader that is built into Android. He explained how braille displays make the content on-screen available as braille and act as a keyboard. He described how users currently need to install an additional app (BrailleBack) to use a braille display with TalkBack.
Braille display support is integrated into TalkBalk starting with Android 13, and also brings improved navigation, commands, and more. In the video, Jaber demonstrated how this enables him to send an email. It is really worth a watch (or listen) if you are interested in how braille displays work.
Image descriptions in Lookout
Lookout, an app for Android that audibly describes what your phone camera sees, introduces a new Images Mode. Product Manager on Lookout Scott Adams noted the importance of knowing the content of images you encounter in visual media. He explained they worked directly with blind people to find out what to describe. Spoiler alert: it was as much as possible, as accurately as possible.
Adams mentioned the technology is still limited and accuracy is important. So at first Images Mode is meant for photos. The Lookout team worked with AI Principles, Product Fairness, and Ethical AI teams to make sure descriptions are responsible and respectful. No doubt with the Oscars debacle still fresh in his memory, Adams mentioned that describing someone without hair as “bald” may be hurtful. It’s good to hear of the attention given to inclusive language.
While the technology is still new, it is good to see progress made in image descriptions. Something we’re seeing more often, like the automatic image descriptions in Microsoft Edge. The new Images Mode comes as a beta on June 2, only in English at first.
The new Accessibility Reader is made to improve the accessibility of longer-form text content. To do this, the reader will allow you to read texts without distractions. To make reading more comfortable, you can change text size, spacing between words, lines, and sentences, and color contrast. Accessibility Reader can also read the text aloud. Something that is helpful to those who struggle comprehending text, or who simply prefer to listen to an article.
Accessibility Reader sounds like a great addition to Android for people with low vision or cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia.
Live Transcribe, Sound Notifications, and Sound Amplifier
Live Transcribe provides speech-to-text in real-time. It displays spoken words as they happen. New for Live Transcribe is offline mode, which works without the need for an internet connection. Live Transcribe supports over 80 languages and dialects. Offline mode is available only in English, Japanese, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.
Sound Notifications can notify you of important sounds around you. It does this by vibration, flashing lights, and notifications on your phone or wearable device. Sound Notifications introduces personalized sound detection. Personalized sound detection enables users to customize and train the app to their situation. This allows it to tell the difference between a beep made by your microwave or dishwasher. Extra information that will obviously be very useful to d/Deaf and hard of hearing people. But I believe this is useful to those with cognitive disabilities like ADHD as well.
There are also plans to improve the experience for users of Sound Amplifier. Such as a new UI and better noise cancellation. Sound Amplifier helps enhance the sounds from your surroundings or the media playing on your device. Again a form of accessibility that is useful to Android users that are hard of hearing, but also those with audio processing difficulties.