Why I Want Android Accessibility to Succeed

Presently, I’m working on an exciting new project. To prepare for it, I bought a Google Nexus 7 tablet. This seems to be the way a number of blind people who want to experience Android have gone. The tablet is reasonably priced, it runs the latest version of Android, it’s the stock Android firmware, and it gets updates quickly because it’s from the OS manufacturers.

 

I had read reviews and heard podcasts about enabling accessibility on newer Android devices. The latest method involves resting two fingers, slightly apart, on the screen and holding them there until you have the device up and talking. A number of people seemed to have all kinds of trouble getting this to work. Perhaps the gesture has been tweaked since then, perhaps I just got lucky. But for me, it just worked the first time, a very seamless and impressive experience.

 

A helpful, user-friendly tutorial then got me acquainted with the gestures critical to getting up and running with the device. This is similar to the tutorial that you get on the Mac when you run VoiceOver for the first time, and it’s well done.

 

There is some excellent material already done on the subject of Android accessibility, which has made remarkable progress since Gingerbread, but is still lacking in some critical areas.

 

What people want to know, is what kind of device is right for them, what works well and what doesn’t, how does the Android experience compare with iOS. From a functional standpoint, the best writing I’ve seen on this subject is on Marco’s Accessibility Blog. This is one person’s opinion about why he believes he couldn’t be as productive as he now is with his iPhone, were he to switch to Android fulltime. Marco has been using Android devices for over a year in his work on developing Firefox for Android, which has some excellent accessibility features.

 

We all use our devices differently, so what may be a show stopper for Marco or me, may not be important to you, or perhaps it’s a trade-off you’re willing to make because of the other benefits of Android.

 

Those benefits are very real. Android devices come in a range of form factors and price points, so you’re not locked into one kind of device. The unemployment rate among blind people is very high, so the impact on your pocketbook is a big deal. Want a physical keyboard? Well phones with them are harder to find now, but they are out there. Want external storage? Many Android devices offer that. Want to be able to carry a spare battery so you can swap it out when you’re having a day of major mobility? It can be done if you choose the right device.

 

Android is wide open. The OS, and many apps on that OS, are open source. Standards like NFC and Micro-USB are used on Android devices as opposed to Passbook and proprietary connectors.

 

You can buy your apps on a standard, accessible website and have them pushed to your device, or buy them on your device directly, as opposed to using a special piece of software on your PC or Mac.

 

On Android, the OS manufacturer doesn’t have a right of veto over what apps you can and can’t install. This is a strength if you know what you’re doing, and a pretty scary weakness if you don’t. There’s no doubt Android has a big malware problem. While the Apple App Store hasn’t been totally free of malware, the number of incidents have been low.

 

Another strength and weakness of Android is that apps aren’t sandboxed. To put this in a context that will probably ring a bell with a number of readers, let’s talk about an app like Read-to-Go from Bookshare. This app is a pretty big download, and that’s because you are downloading and paying for two voices. You may have downloaded, and paid for, those voices by purchasing some other app. But you’re going to have to buy another copy, because Apple won’t let you install apps that make services available to the OS and other applications as a whole. TTS takes up quite a bit of room, and if all you can afford is a 16, or even 8GB device, this is not a trivial matter. On Android, you can install a range of voices, and they’re available to any application. This makes the cost of selling self-voicing applications much less. That’s good news for blind people on a budget.

 

One of my favourite iOS apps is Voice Dream Reader. If you have an iThing and haven’t checked this out, I highly recommend it. You can purchase a range of voices for this app, including a couple of Neospeech voices. But because of the sandboxing, you can only use these great voices within the Voice Dream Reader app.

 

This sandboxing issue affects apps like special keyboards. I’m a big user of Fleksy on my iPhone. I can type very fast, one handed, while on the move. But having to copy what I’ve typed to the clipboard and paste the text into the app I’m working in is a nuisance. On Android, you could set something like Fleksy as a universal keyboard.

 

Sandboxing can be a strength as well though. iOS is very stable because of it. You can get into a situation on Android where you install something that changes a universal behavior, and find the whole device broken in some critical way.

 

The openness of the platform and those behind it, means that at least in theory, blind people can have a much greater input into what goes on. It is refreshing to be able to subscribe to the Eyes Free email list, and see interaction between people involved in developing accessibility tools for the platform and end users. This reminds me of the early days of the Windows screen reading industry and it’s refreshing.

 

Sorry Siri, but Google Voice Search and dictation just eats your lunch. Voice search it very snappy, can answer some quite complex questions sensibly and accurately, and dictation seems to me more accurate. Siri can’t look for businesses in New Zealand, Google Voice Search can. Some people have reported issues with a loop being created, where the speaker of the device picks up Talkback speaking what you’re dictating. I wear hearing aids and have them connected directly to my device, so haven’t experienced this myself and don’t know if it may have been addressed. Talkback is being improved all the time.

 

All that said, these considerably attractive benefits are, for me right now, theoretical. Apple has created a remarkable mobile experience, and I’m saying this as someone who was very concerned initially about no Bluetooth keyboard or Braille support, and being reliant on the touch screen when you needed to be truly productive. Year on year, they’ve delivered substantial improvements to VoiceOver along with iOS. It’s elegant, it works.

 

The gestures have an intuitive logic about them. Unlike Android, when you flick through elements on the screen, your view scrolls. The lack of this feature in Talkback is disappointing, especially since if you arrow through items with an external keyboard, you can get the results blind people would expect. There are also no screen reader specific commands with an external or built-in keyboard. There used to be, so I’m puzzled by their removal.

 

VoiceOver features like the ability to label controls, the item chooser, face recognition, the remarkable accessibility of Apples Maps and more ad productivity and polish to a fantastic product.

 

As blind people, we have so much to gain from using the best technology to meet our needs, that I don’t think we can afford the luxury of being blinkered about the choices out there. I’m excited about where Android has come from, and where it might be going. Do I think I would give up my iPhone today? No, I couldn’t, for two reasons, one accessibility-related and one not. The accessibility-related reason is that I truly don’t feel Android is there yet, for reasons so well-articulated by Marco. It’s getting ever closer, but I think I would take a productivity hit if I switched. The second reason is one that many sighted people also face. I’ve invested a lot in the Apple ecosystem. I have hundreds of apps, I use iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini, Apple TV and Mac. Many of my friends around the world use iMessage and FaceTime, so I can text and call them for free. Something would have to happen, either negatively with my current technology, or super positively with Android, to make me switch at this point. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t see the many benefits of considering Android if you’re getting into the smartphone or tablet market today, and that’s why Mosen Consulting is happy to provide training on Android. As I said earlier, it’s about trade-offs. For some, the principles are more important than anything else. Just as some people are willing to pay extra to buy free range or organic products, some people feel so strongly about the benefits of Android’s openness, that they’re happy to jump on board and become part of the effort to keep Android accessibility moving forward. Now that I have an Android device, I’ll certainly make my suggestions and am looking forward to it.

 

You can slice and dice the numbers in a bunch of ways, but if you look at phones and tablets by OS alone, Android is now the leading OS in both categories. And I end this article with that bottom line. I want Android accessibility to succeed, because in the end, blind people should have as much choice about the device they choose to use as do sighted people. For that to be truly viable for more of us though, let’s continue not to be fan boys, or treat technology like it’s some sort of political party or religion. Let’s instead acknowledge the work that’s been done and the work that remains. Let’s point out constructively what we need for Android to meet more of our needs. And you know what is truly amazing? The fact that we’re at the point where we can have this discussion about free access to the two leading mobile platforms is something to celebrate in itself.

 

Have you switched from one platform to another? Why, and how did the switch work out for you? Do you use Android with a screen reader on a daily basis? How well is it working out? Share your expertise in the comments.

65 Comments

  1. Peter Mahach

    Initially I wanted to get an iPhone. Unfortunateely, I couldn’t afford one so I seddled on a nokia for a while THis was in early 2011 so at this point symbian was really dying. That, and I had an iPod touch so I knew just how superior the iOS experience was. Then a eyar later an oppurtunity presented itself and I gone droid, and got an Xperia pro. This phone came with gingerbread but got an ICS upgrade, and there exist custom roms to upgrade the OS to jellybean, which runs surprisingly well considering it only has a single core CPU.
    I’m glad I got a phone with a keyboard. Not just because it’s faster and more convenient, but one of the parts where Talkback is lacking is good text navigation. The other rather big problem is web views, which currently work by injecting a bit of Javascript to the page which makes the view self voicing. This is very unreliable if you have to fill in a form, and also rather slow – and on android 4.1 it causes the device to lock up if you interact with an ad which makes it more of a hinderence then a help. Not to mention web views by default have scripting disabled and if the developer doesn’t explisitly turn it on in their app, they pretty much won’t work.
    That said the OS is great. People are coming out with apps that just couldn’t be done on iPhone which are incredibly useful (total commander, all TTS engines, homescreens etc come to mind), and more often than not the hardware is a lot more interesting (phones with QUad core CPU’s while the iPhone 5 is only a dual, FM radio, or even built-in stereo microphones).
    I’m lucky enough to be able to use both platforms at the same time, and I find that iOS is very lacking without a jailbreak. Hopefully we’re going to see more Access improvements soon (with google IO 2013 in a few weeks), we’ll have announcements of the new android version which could be 4.3 or 5 so we could see some more milestones.

  2. thomas

    All excellent points. I made the switch for two reasons: I like the openness of android and hate the closedness of iOS [a limitation which can be gotten around with jailbreaks]; and because I simply can’t afford an iPhone [even on a contract] where as I got a relatively high-end [nexus4] device for half the price of a similar iOS device. And also, I was concerned when investing in an android device, but just like when I invested in an iOS device [iPod touch 4G 8GB] I was rewarded richly for my [highly researched and pondered over] gamble.
    Thank you for an awesome post, and not being too iOS-happy [like some].

  3. Henk Abma

    After having used an iPhone for about 3 years, time came to decide what would be my next phone. I had been following Android’s accessibility progress since the arrival of the Galaxy Nexus, which came with Android 4.0 (ICS). The leap forward with Jelly Bean was so impressive that I decided to buy the Nexus 7 to see what I could- and could not do wit Android.
    Basically I think accessibility is at the point where you don’t give up a lot compared to IOS. Because A11y on Android is newer than on IOS, somewhat less apps are accessible, however lately I have ran into several apps where the Android version is more accessible than the IOS counterpart.

    One other thing I like very much is the way BrailleBack handles the screen, compared to the poor way IOS handles braille (IOS is more like JAWS speech mode, which I seldom use).

    So finally I bought a Nexus 4, which is about half the price of a simular iPhone 5. I still have my old iPhone 3GS with me, however I find I forget to charge it quite often, because I hardly use it any more.

    The two improvements I really would like to see in Android a11y, which are standard in IOS, are easy language switching for TTS output and better on-screen editing of text fields.

    The latter issue has somewhat been adressed by Talkback 3.3.2 that came out last week.

    • Jonathan Mosen

      Hi Henk, I’m interested in your comment about some Android apps being more accessible than the iOS versions. Can you tell me which ones you’ve found to be that way? I’d love to install and experience it. Thanks.

      • Henk Abma

        Most have to do with local travel, e.g. our national rail company has an app on IOS that is reasonably accessible, however the Android app has the option to speek to it in order to get travel information. Same goes for an app that tells me when busses arrive at the stop where I am. The IOS version is completely useless, whereas the Android version was almost perfect and the developer modified the last missing a11y issue on the evening I reported them.

      • Henk Abma

        On the eyes-free list Steve Nutt mentions foursquare. I admit it is easier to check in using my Android phone, however extra information (statistics) is not always as accessible on android.

  4. Vincent

    Since 2 weeks I own a nexus 4 phone which has been made by the people of LG.
    WHat i’ve found is that I can type much more faster on the nexus thenon my Iphone 4.
    I think I’ve found the same accessibility barriers and non accessibility barrios has you did.
    I’ve still have problems opening the notification pannel on android because of a difficult gesture.
    Butt I like the opness and the way the appstore on android works.

    Like you I am keeping my iPhone, not sure if I will keep the nexus device. Although I really enjoy playing with it.
    THanks for the nice artikel.

    • Henk Abma

      I changed the gesture for opening the notification pannel, try that on an IOS device 😉 and now I have no trouble opening it. Still I like the push notifications on the lock screen on IOS, but from Marco’s post I believe this is also possible on Android using some ap.

    • Kerri

      Hello. I would like to comment on the openness of Android at least in my experience. I’m an iPhone 4 user; however, my mother has a Samsung galaxy Ace running Gingerbread. The trouble I am facing is that the talk back on *this particular phone is lacking features. I find it doesn’t articulate the status bar correctly, the response is very slow and ther eis no fast way to unable/disable speech. Now please note this may be an issue with the phone but as I see it, the openness can pose issues such as this. Would I attempt android again, maybe when my contract expires and if Telus (In British Columbia) offers a higher end Andreoid phone.

  5. Justin Romack

    I have given Android some serious consideration since ICS was released. Coming from the dude who sat outside an AT&T store for five hours to wait for the iPhone 3GS the morning it launched, I’m not one to sit idly on the sidelines as tech progresses. Sadly, I haven’t yet purchased an Android device, but I believe my moment is coming. 🙂

    The marketshare is, indeed, increasing and I think the more viable options our community has on the table–the better. Innovation should (ideally) drive innovation, and I think we’ve seen that point ring true these past couple of years.

    From a more personal, “geekier” viewpoint, I, too, want Android accessibility to succeed because, frankly, iOS has grown exceedingly more stale with each iteration. I’ve jailbroken my iPhone and iPad to squeeze any bit of excitement I possibly can from it. In fact, I’ve (somewhat) addressed your Fleksy concern by creating a custom gesture to switch to the previously used application after copying and clearing my Fleksy text. It’s not near as elegant as an actual keyboard selection, but it at least makes me feel a *LITTLE* cooler. *wink*

    Great read, Jonathan, and I agree with you entirely. It’s going to be exciting to see what Google does with the platform in the next year (or two) in terms of accessibility. A Google that’s successful with accessibility excites me, because there product isn’t just a phone (it’s an entire digital experience), and the implications this holds are ENORMOUS.

    • Jonathan Mosen

      Yes, jailbreaking certainly adds to the flexibility of an iThing. The dilemma I have is that I enjoy running iOS beta builds and offering feedback. So again it was about trade-offs and in the end I decided I wanted to make a contribution by offering feedback in that regard. If I win the lottery, I’ll get a device exclusively for iOS testing. Or if someone donates a large amount, you know, by Pay Pal or something.

  6. Henk Abma

    One other thing I would like to mention, is that with Android phones the basic call functionality works much better than with IOS. Picking up and hanging up calls is much more reliable than on my old iPhone, especially with the TB setting to use home for answer and lock for hangup. Unfortunately my Nexus 4 doesn’t have a home key…..

  7. Bryan Mckinnish

    I got me a nexus 7 for Christmas.
    I must say that thing is awesome.
    I love how you don’t need a piece of software to copy and paste music or anything on the device.
    It’s also easy as pie to add notification sounds, alarms, and other stuff.
    I’ve never tried ios, so I can’t compare the 2, but android is pretty much my first mobile os.
    I also like how it backs up your app settings, wifi passwords, and other stuff, and applies the settings if your tablet or phone is reset.
    I’m not sure if ios does that.
    The battery life is impressive as well.

  8. Lynette

    I bought an android tablet a year ago. It wasn’t a Nexus, i can’t remember the name of it. So perhaps my experience with Android wasn’t so impressive because the tablet i bought, and sold a few months later, was slow, had a horrible speaker, and wouldn’t support any other TTS besides the default Peco speech. I ended up purchasing a keyboard with a mini USB connector because I didn’t like the gestures Explore by Touch used. My screen was often unresponsive, or it would jump around, but again, this could be the fault of the tablet and not the OS. I haven’t given up on Android completely–I don’t know when I’ll be able to upgrade to a new iPhone, or if I’ll be able to afford it, and i would definitely consider purchasing a phone that runs an older version of Android and has a physical keyboard. i believe blind people should have options as well, and i praise Apple for the job it’s done, but some of us simply can’t afford the price of an iphone or iPad. now if only Rimm would jump on the accessibility band wagon, because the Blackberry z10 looks like a cool phone.

  9. Emily

    I switched to android 5 months ago, due to a huge decrease in my income when I moved from Toronto ontario to Halifax Nova Scotia. I also switched due to the fragility of iPhone. I went through 9 in just over 4yrs.
    I have tried out 4 android devices, 2 were Samsung, 2 Motorola.
    I’ve liked all 3, but by far, the Motorola Atrix HD LTE, is by far my favorite, for a variety of reasons, both in terms of the built in accessibility functions, & for the build of the phone, as well as the size & ease of use..
    I really love the screen size, the size of the form factor as well, I have pretty big hands & the phone has a nice bezel, I can hold it and not be afraid of mistakenly doing something I don’t want to..
    I also love the ability to customize the OS, to what I need, as I’m legally blind & have issues with light sensitivity..
    I also do miss a few of the features of the iPhone, but not many..

    I am glad I switched..

  10. dennis

    Hi, I am in the process of switching to android from synbion. The reason I chose this I want a phone with a physical keyboard I have that ability with android I just install a custom rom of jelly bean and go on my way if you have questions feel free to subscribe to the accessible android list the address is

    accessible-android+subscribe@googlegroups.com

  11. Vincent

    A really other nice aspect of android these days is the integration of apps and how they can work together.
    I can chose from the people app if I would like to skype someone or that the device should perform a sellular call. Or I can sent a whatsapp message from the people app. Or plot a route using google now to their adress if it has been registered in my contacts.

  12. Jeff Bishop

    This was an excellent blog post Jonathan. I am starting to do some Android work at the University (just beginning) but I am waiting to see if Google will release a new model of the Nexus 7 before I make a personal purchase. The tutorial you mentioned in the blog post, can you please supply a link to that by chance?

    • Jonathan Mosen

      The tutorial is actually built into Talkback. It runs on the device when Talkback is activated for the first time, and can be accessed subsequently from Settings.

  13. Rick Harmon

    I first tried Android back in 2010 on a Motorola droid 2 running Android OS 2.2 and later 2.3. I used the phone with many apps for 3 months but found it was nearly impossible to make phone calls with it unless I used Code factories Mobile Accessibility. My experience was not great but I did think that Android did show some signs of promise. I did however decide in 2010 to make the move to iOS on the iPod touch 3 and found it to be for myself much easier to use than Android at the time was. I’ve since moved up from the iPod touch 3, to a 4 and then to a iPhone 4 and today a iPhone 5.

    In July of 2012 I decided to give Android a try again and purchased the Nexus 7. I immediately found out that the Android OS and talkback had improved in many ways. I did have many problems with the Nexus 7 most likely due to my comfort level on iOS and sold the Nexus 7 after 3 months. I didn’t give up though on Android, after the Nexus 7 was updated to Jellybean 4.2 I decided to give it a try once again. I currently own a 32 GB Nexus 7. While I still have some difficulties using it most likely due to being so comfortable with iOS, I have decided to hang on to it and see what the future brings to Android. I look forward to the Google conference this month and what the next version of Android is like.

    I prefer iOS because it just works, it’s very polished in every aspect where Android is still rough around the edges. Those sharp edges are getting more and more polished as updates come out however. I can see a day in the near future where Android is as every much polished as iOS is and very much welcome that day. Choice is a great thing and we all now have at least two choices for our smart phone needs. Hopefully one day Microsoft will get the hint and make its phones accessible as well and give us in the blind community even more choice.

    I’m not a fan boy. I use what works for me and I say to all of you to do the same. If iOS works for you and you like it then by all means use it but on the other hand if Android is your cup of tea then by all means drink it and enjoy.

  14. Rick Harmon

    Also congratulations Jonathan on your new site here, I wish you all the best of luck in what ever you decide to do in the future.

  15. Marco Zehe

    Excellent post, Jonathan! It echoes my feelings very well: Even though I am not ready to switch, I definitely want Android accessibility to succeed as well!
    What Android really needs are some more sophisticated APIs for text navigation. I know TalkBack 3.3.2 is supposed to have better text editing capabilities, but I personally haven’t found there to be really a difference. And with the arrival of the new version of the Amazon Kindle app for iOS, which has VoiceOver support for books now, the need for Android a11y to offer something similar is urgently needed to close the gap!

  16. Bill Dengler

    Like many others here, I switched from the Rotton Apple to Android for a few reasons. First, openness : even an unrooted Android device offers more freedom to the end user than a jailbroken IThing. Second, app selection : I found more apps that do more things for less money on Android. Third, variety of devices. I have sold the Evil I and haven’t looked back since. I have had many Androids, from the Samsung Captivate Glide, to the HTC Vivid, to the G2, to the Nexus 4, and a Galaxy S4 is on the way as I type this. I have rooted and flashed custom ROMs on all of them, and offer my services in rooting/flashing for a small fee(see my Android page for details). I have recorded some podcasts on Android, and am starting a series on getting started with Android which will be appearing on some popular blindness related podcasts. I have started an Android wiki, and answer questions on the eyes-free list.
    In response to many comments about text selection : I can’t speak for stock Android(AOSP) as I don’t use it, but in Cyanogen Mod there is an option to enable volume key cursor control. This allows me to edit text quite easily.
    In response to many comments about notifications : two or three finger swipe down(for ICS and above) and one finger swipe down(for Gingerbread and below) has always worked for me.

  17. Austin Grace

    Hello Jonathan. This was a good post. I just recently switched from the iPhone 5 to a phone called the LG Mach on Sprint here in the US. This phone is running 4.0 ice cream sandwich. I like a physical keyboard so this phone was one of 2 phones that sprint offered that met my needs. I’m a huge tech geek so I love learning new operating systems. I will say IOS defanatly has a superior accessibility experience. There is no doubt about that. The main reason I switched is because I was sick of going through itunes to do a lot of stuff on the phone. Plus I had been using iOS since 2010 and I wanted to try something new. I use NVDA as my full time screen reader and NVDA had not worked with certain aspects of iTunes and I was done dealing with it. Plus I have also made the switch from mac back to windows. So far I’m liking android. I love how you can sideload apps and how you can use micro sd cards for storage. I can’t use the facebook app very well with talkback and I have yet to find a good GPS and twitter client I can use. Apps seem a lot more accessible on iOS for the most part. If anyone has any questions on android I can try to answer them for you. I have only been using it for a month. Part of me still wishes I had the iPhone 5 but I had to sell it to purchase this android phone. I may purchase one of the new iPod touches though so I can use iOS.

  18. Jeffrey

    I have access to both platforms iOS and android. I spent 6 months using iOS as my primary phone in order to learn and understand it. It’s a great polished solution. However, when I was buying my personal phone I went android. Up until Jellybean (the latest version of android), I was in agreement that iOS was significantly better. However, what I would say now is that Android has some features that are significantly superior to iOS (i.e. navigation from screen to screen both back and forth, native TTS support, 3rd party input methods that are available anywhere, high contrast black support and a number of others) and iOS has some areas where it excells more than android (i.e. text editing).

    I celebrate the fact that we have 2 alternatives now. I look forward to seeing how they will compete with each other.

  19. Rick alfaro

    Great post Jonathan. I don’t have anythingto add other than I totally agree with you regarding Android Accessibility. I love the fact that is is gaining ground and getting better and better. Like you, I still love and regularly use my iDevices but still follow with interest progress bing made on Android and certainly hope it continues. I would love to someday see that it in fact has finally caught up with IOS in terms of A11Y.

  20. Amir

    Hi Jonathan,

    First and foremost, thanks for your insightful article.
    I’ve been using my iPhone 4S over the past two years and definitely like access to hundreds of accessible apps and an accessible OS. However, time and again I’ve tried to take a stab at various Android handsets and tablets “Galaxy S II, Galaxy S III, Xperia Pro and Nexus 7) in hopes of checking Android’s improvements as far as accessibility is concerned. While I acknowledge that Android has improved in this regard by leaps and bounds, I’m not yet in a position to make a full-time switch to Android for the reasons you mentioned and also for the following reasons:
    1. Some of Android’s potential benefits work against us.
    The most salient example of this is Android’s TTS engine(s). While it’s very true that one can add TTS engines to Android, to this day I haven’t seen a TTS engine, free or paid, which can truly compete with VoiceOver’s Vocalizer both in terms of crash-free functioning and access to a comprehensive list of languages. Now don’t get me wrong — I’ve never been a fan of Vocalizer, but the point is that it just works without a hitch whereas Ivona, Acapela and Svox have their own peculiar hiccups. I’m of the belief that Google *should provide a solid multilingual TTS engine with Android if its screen reader is to succeed. The benefit of that multilingual TTS engine would be, well, obvious: hassle-free automatic and manual language switching with minimum crashes or headaches.
    2. Google’s own commitment to accessibility needs to be confirmed.
    Obviously I’m not in a position to do it, but when Google’s Calendar, Gmail and Map apps aren’t as accessible as they should be, what should we expect from third-party developers? I’m positive Google is moving in the right direction, but let’s see what they do to further prove it in the upcoming release of Android (4.3 or 5.0 — whatever they tend to call it).
    3. The self-destructive “I hate iOS” conundrum.
    You hear this a lot from visually impaired Android users and it’s not problematic in and out of itself:
    “iOS doesn’t allow me to easily copy files and music to my handset. I like an open environment and that’s why I can’t tolerate Apple.”
    After all, who hates freedom of that sort? The point is that I don’t want to have this argument stifle my productivity. After all, many sighted people these days prefer Galaxy S III to iPhone 5 not because they necessarily hate iOS and its limitations — most of them do it because the S III or the S IV is capable of performing many tasks more efficiently. As such, why shouldn’t the same point of view be extended to Android’s access model? I truly appreciate everyone’s choice, but as my sighted peers waited for a few years to have a truly competitive Android device, I’d be willing to play the waiting game until Google gets a couple of things straight — better UI navigation, better web/HTML support, better list navigation, better Braille support, etc. Of course, there’s no need for all of these to reach my desired access level instantaneously — I just want to smell that sense of commitment to accessibility. That might be more philosophical rather than purely technological, but we’re talking about Google — not a startup or a fledgling company.

    Looking forward to a more accessible Android,
    Amir

  21. Zack

    This was a very insightful article, Jonathan. I agree with upi completely, and am an iOS user myself, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. I don’t hate android, and I don’t think that people ought to hate iOS either. Different strokes for different folks, as they say, and let’s all try and learn from one another instead of sniping. I would love the opportunity to try an android device at some point.

  22. Blind Freedom

    Jonathan, many thanks for an excellent well balanced and neutral article on the subject matter.
    I am a blind individual and I use my smart phone both professionally and socially. What I write here is from personal experience, I do not have any preferences, simply the phone that allows me to do the most is the best for me.
    I have now been using the iPhone for over 13 months and it has simply transformed my life. It has allowed me to communicate and be connected just like any sited person. Furthermore, it has allowed me to do this at the same speed and efficiency as any sited person and in some cases even faster. It is this empowerment for which I must thank Apple, because they have built this product with accessibility in mind from ground up rather than a mere afterthought (lip service gesture). I apologize for over stressing this point, but what Apple has achieved here is simply pure brilliance. Most companies offering any products for blind and visually impaired persons are just satisfied to make their product accessible, they seldom go that extra step to ensure that there offering enables blind users to achieve the same speed and efficiency as the sighted users. To provide the former is good and considerate but to achieve the latter is outstanding and it truly demonstrates Apple’s commitment to blind and visually impaired users and most certainly it’s not just a lip service gesture.

    Not only have Apple achieved this with the iPhone, but all their products from a cheap iPod nano to their top-end laptops and desktops. Furthermore, the accessibility works in the same way across the entire product range. simply an amazing achievement in this world of profitability and commercialism. No other mainstream companies I know of have invested such heavily in accessibility as Apple. I feel I have to really stress this point because I do not believe Apple gets sufficient recognition for its investment in accessibility and their direct contribution in transforming lives of people like myself around the world.

    Conversely I recently spent some time testing Android for accessibility. Although Android has improved in leaps and bounds over the last several releases, I’m afraid it’s still not reached a level of maturity whereby a blind person can use the product efficiently and in a professional environment. Unfortunately, there are still many gaps, but for me, there are four major issues because of which I would not consider Android platform at this moment in time. These issues are:-

    1. The dictation has a major floor in that as soon as one starts to dictate, the system starts to translate and display the translated text immediately, it does not wait for the dictation to complete. In a way, this is a good thing, but unfortunately Talkback starts to speak the text and then this interferes with the dictation in progress, resulting in garbage output. To me, this is simply unacceptable. It makes me wonder whether it was tested at all? Any manufacturer serious about accessibility would not release such rubbish. To add insult to injury, this has been like this for several releases. I did spend considerable time checking that it is not some setting that was causing this behaviour, but I couldn’t find anything in this regards.

    2. When you grab an icon from one of the main screens to relocate it into a folder, whilst you’re dragging the icon around the screen, Android does not speak any items that the finger is going over, thus you would never know when to release the finger on the folder in which you wish to relocate the icon. Again, this just simply demonstrates lack of care on part of the developers. It took me approximately 15 minutes to get the icon into the folder by playing a guessing game. Again totally unacceptable.

    3. Majority of the third party applications just do not talk at all. Out of 20 I tried, I think about 17 did not speak at all, I really mean a big fat nothing. Whilst one may argue that this is the responsibility of the third party developer and no fault of Android, I disagree with this. The reality is that accessibility was an afterthought on Android and thus it is not at the core of the operating system. This means that the app developers are able to totally ignore accessibility should they wish. On the other hand, IOS takes a total different approach to this in that VoiceOver is at the core of the operating system and thus very difficult for any third party app developer to totally ignore. This is why the situation on IOS is far better, out of 20 randomly selected apps, around 17 will work with VoiceOver. They may not be working perfectly, but a lot better than Android.

    4. Majority of the basic core apps, such as mail are quite complex and rich in GUI design which makes the navigation with Talkback quite slow and time consuming. Yes, it is possible, but in a world where time is money, can we really afford that much time messing around trying to navigate around a cluttered GUI? This is a classic example of the point I was making above, yes it’s accessible, but is the blind person able to use the functionality with ease, speed and efficiency as the sighted user? In fact, this issue is very common through many basic core applications on Android.

    Overall Android experience was very poor and it seriously made me question whether Android is at all serious about accessibility, what I have seen so far most certainly falls into the lip service category. For anyone serious about accessibility would not take this long and release a barely workable solution.
    So in a nutshell, yes, Android does support a screen reader, but the screen reader is asleep. Until such time as when the screen reader comes out of hibernation, there is only one choice for serious blind business individuals and that is Apple.

    • Henk Abma

      Your serious problem #1 has already been solved in the latest talk-back. It was always easy to work around by using a headset.

      Item 2 may be somewhat troublesome but has nothing to do with the ability to use the device professionally, since I assume your work does not exist of moving icons around.

      • Blind Freedom

        I think my point is missunderstood.
        leaving specific examples aside, If I’m payhing a top dollar for a product, then I expect simple functions to move icoms around to work.
        If simple things like this don’t work, what chance is there for more complex interactions to be successful?????
        I also have an android device and I also want to be able to use it in a professional capacity, but its simply not there yet.
        One day it will be and that day, as long as its in my lifetime, I will be the first to use it professionally.

  23. Alex

    Wow. He’s aware that most blind people are unemployed–and thus, do not have much money–but still sees reason to charge $80 per hour for assistive technology training. In that case, since I very obviously have so much money, I might as well buy myself a few Android devices. Maybe Jonathan can show me how to use them…For the very reasonable price of $80 an hour.

    • Jonathan Mosen

      First, I’m a little reluctant to respond to this question as part of this thread, as it’s really not related to Android accessibility. However, I also don’t want to have it appear that I’m unwilling to respond to it.
      For many years prior to my involvement in assistive technology full time, I volunteered thousands of hours, and also was paid in another capacity, to try and improve the lot of blind people here in New Zealand through awareness raising and law changes that levelled the playing field. Part of that is also acknowledging that blind people are just as entitled to receive compensation commensurate with their skills as anyone else.

      In economics, there is a term known as opportunity cost. What that means is that if you allocate resources to something, you cannot allocate them to another thing. There is a bunch of stuff Mosen Consulting is doing that isn’t public yet. Some of that includes eBooks, audio presentations and webinars. Obviously with that kind of material, it’s easier to spread the cost of production across a wider number of users, so the price for that material for a single user can be much less. But if I am providing training to a single individual, it’s time I can’t spend on those projects, as well as a new initiative I can’t yet disclose. Further, people with a strong track record in an industry can always charge more. Before setting the pricing, I consulted a number of rehab agencies to discuss an appropriate rate for a consultant’s services, and at this stage early on in the company’s history I’m actually not at the top end.

      I’ve already been contacted by some people who are now clients. I’m grateful for that and will offer the best service I can possibly offer. But also, I’m very aware that there are some people who could really benefit from training like this who just can’t afford it. I really want to do all I can to empower as many people as possible, so I’m working with a range of blindness agencies around the world, going through the processes necessary in some cases to be registered in their system as a trainer/contractor. This is so the end user, who may not be able to pay, can receive the training at no charge, while making it economically viable for me to provide it. This is an ongoing process, but I’m already prioritising agencies local to those who have contacted me saying they really want training, but couldn’t pay that kind of rate. Together, we’ll find a solution in the majority of cases.

      I do intend updating the page on one on one training to explain this further, but with the training that has already come in and the eBook project I’m working on, life is crazy busy just now.

      Hope this is of some help.

      • Bonnie Lannom

        I usually do not comment on blogs, as I have seen too many times where it turns into a flaming contest with someone trying to get in the last word: however, after reading the comments concerning the rates Mr. Mosen is asking for one on one tech training, I feel compelled to respond.

        I am a vocational rehabilitation counselor with one of the top blindness agencies in the US and am well aware of the unemployment and underemployment rate among persons who are blind or visually impaired. I am also aware many of these same individuals must rely on government assistance to make ends meet. This being said, improving ones skills in the ever-changing world of assistive technology and technology in general is critical to success in today’s job market.

        Computer classes and training at most computer stores or community colleges cost more than what Mr. Mosen is charging– without the benefit of the instructor being knowledgeable on the assistive technology component.

        Assistive technology training is a small market, and good trainers are hard to find. It has been my experience, that this is the going rate for individual training. A rehabilitation engineer—someone who goes to a job site to try to make commercial software play nice with screen readers or magnification software may charge in the thousands depending on how many hours are required to make the worksite accessible to the blind or visually impaired employee.

        Though I am sympathetic to those individuals who feel they truly can’t afford training with Mr. Mosen—who I feel has an excellent track record in the assistive technology arena, or anyone else who might meet their individual needs, I would ask you to think about the following:

        One how much do I need this training to either improve my chances at employment or improve my current employment situation. Second, if you aren’t able to afford it what resources are available to me? Look for grants or speak with your local rehabilitation agency about the need for training. Remember many sighted individuals are also unemployed or under employed and must make financial sacrifices to improve their own chances for employment success, and most of them do not have the resources persons with disabilities do. Just some food for thought, and before anyone jumps on me and accuses me of being clueless to what consumers who are blind or visually impaired face, I will state I am nearly totally blind, so yes, I do understand.
        I personally feel all too often, we as blind people feel entitled and that everything should be free or at a reduced price and are unwilling to either extend a little extra cash for something that could potentially help later on or make the effort to find resources that could be helpful.

  24. Henk Abma

    I received a message today from the developer of Georgie, a suit of applications intended to make phones more accessible to those who don’t feel comfortable using a smart-phone as-is for whatever reason. So this is another type of accessibility, however it is still about getting people involved who would otherwise have no access to a smart phone. It is pasted below with permission:

    I’ve just been reading your comments concerning the iOS vs Android accessibility debate on Jonathan Mosens recent blog. This is all very interesting to me and for sure there are many useful things I can do on Android but cannot touch on iOS. For instance, I can take photos and give them voice labels but iOS saves them to the camera roll and voice over just says ‘photo’. For bus locations it says ‘pin’. This renders OCR, object recognition, photos and other apps that use the camera completely useless to a blind person. The same is true of text messaging, email and web browsing, all of which I leverage to provide useful apps/information to blind people but I would have to use the stock and extremely restrictive iOS apps.

    However, for me the debate is somewhat different. Blind techies will find their way to use either Android or iOS. My concern is the less techie individual who may not have ever had a phone in their hands or who may be losing or have lost their sight. The learning curve on both Android and iOS is pretty steep for these people with Android coming out slightly ahead because iOS is more cluttered with more gestures to learn (but there are more training resources available for iOS). This is the first reason we developed Georgie, with the pedestrian but clear user interface it has, and selected Android as our platform. The second reason is the price point because many of the people who this technology would benefit either don’t have the money or the means of payment to buy an iPhone (and those who do would be horrified it they knew the total cost of ownership on a contract). I’d love to offer an iOS version and have developed a prototype but it has limited functionality and I’m afraid it would not conform to the Apple user interface rules and they would never publish it.

  25. Dallas O'Brien

    hi all.
    On the subject of android vs IOS. why does this have to be, one or the other? …. there is no reason, besides of course, cost restraints, that a person can’t have both. I myself, have yet to venture in to the android world, simply because when I upgraded phones, from my old, trusty, and .. yes, slow, iPhone 3gs, I had to look at the simple facts. go buy a $700 samsung galaxy s3, which at the time was the biggest and best, or get an iPhone 5, which I knew full well how to use already, and knew that it generally offers better accessibility at this time.
    how ever, I do intend, at some point, to get hold of android, probably a tablet, as I really have no need of yet another phone. LOL. I still have my 3gs up and running, let alone my new 5. the 5 has blown me away, in how fast, responsive, and usable it is, and to my surprise, the battery is actually pretty good, for an iPhone. mind you, having come from a 3gs, I guess I just wasn’t up with what the battery life of iPhone’s had been doing in 4, and 4s’s. never the less, though I spent 999 dollars Australian for my iPhone 5, I do not regret it. its the most accessible, and portable computer I have yet had. and yes. I consider the iPhone a portable computer, which it is. in fact, even apple have said for years, do not think of the iPhone as a phone, as its not. its a pocket computer, that just happens to have phone abilities. course, I do wish they didn’t charge the huge premium, compared to the price of the iPod touch, but there you go. this is apple we are speaking of here. ahaha.
    I am still considering grabbing an iPad, or perhaps and iPad mini, but have yet to decide if I shall at this time. but the larger screen, and split screen abilities, let alone the multi tasking gestures, sure do draw me to buying one. at this time, I have yet to hear if android has anything like this. I mean, sure, I hear it has the menu you can bring up with your running app’s, much like IOS does, but that is hardly multi tasking. way too slow. I still wish apple would bring the full multi tasking gestures to the iPhone, and iPod touch, but I very much doubt they will.
    now, as for android, I have listened to podcasts, and played around, very briefly, with my brother’s galaxy s3, an I have to admit, its coming along, … slowly. its still no where near what I want out of a personal computer. to slow, unresponsive, difficult to work with in some cases, and like a few people have stated, even the built in functions and app’s still aren’t completely accessible. if at all. yet, I can go buy any IOS device I want now, and I know that, although not every one of the app’s on the app store are accessible, and I’d say that its actually less then 17 out of 20 are accessible, all, and I do mean, ALL, of the built in functions are accessible. something that has never happened with any other device out there. yet. I do wish android would catch up in this regard, as yes, I agree, apple equipment, is very expensive. but if its the accessible way to do things, I will pay it, for now.
    2, again, although not all app’s out there are accessible on the app store, there is one thing to remember here. apple has committed to accessibility in a way that nobody else has. and apple have in fact always been this way. in fact, the hole point behind apples entire history, was that they wanted everybody in the world, to have equal access to computers. and they have succeeded in a way nobody else has.
    and the thing is, even if you come across an app that isn’t accessible in the app store, you can generally contact the developer, and request for access with voiceover to be enabled, or made better, and they will generally work with you to do so. due to one factor. apple do in fact, return your money, if you purchase an app, and the developer refuses to make it accessible, and there is no reason why they could not do so. obviously, this does not count, if something your trying to get made accessible, has reason for why it isn’t. but in a lot of cases, there isn’t a reason why they can’t.
    where as, of course, in the android world, this is not the case. of course you will get good dev’s, who will be fantastic, and go out of their way to do everything they can for you, to work accessibility in to their app’s, but they are not in fact required to.
    never the less. the android world is growing, the accessibility is slowly getting there. I do hope it gets better. but as was stated in a previous post, until they do in fact make the built in functions accessible, all the way, how can we expect anything else to be so for the system.

    • Kerri

      Hello. I do not think the issue here is that we as blind consumers cannot have both though that is cost prohibitive. I believe the issue is to give a good comparison in ordr to make the choice that is best for your particular needs. I personally did not have a great experience with a Samsung galaxy Ace running Gingerbrad but that may be the device, not Android.

  26. Blind Freedom

    Also, one factor we all seem to ignore when comparing the two platforms is consumer experience aspect. I know that with an Apple product, if it is faulty, I can take it to any Aaple outlet and they will give me a new one immidiately if they cannot resolve my issue.
    Now, as a blind person who relies on this product in a professional capacity, this is an excelent service surround. To me this is alone worth tripple price I would want to pay for any alternative equivelent device and this is before even considering accessibility aspects.
    The other quick point I want to make is on the hardware performance. Most people offen refer to the hardware performance of android devices to claim its a better device than the equivelent Apple product. This is so not true, my S4 contains an 800MHz processor but yet its speed with general access using VoiceOver Is equivilent or better than android devices containing quad core processors running at some silly high speed.
    Apple rarely refer to their devices by processor speeds or the memory contained in the device, their focus is about the user experience which is absolutely the correct approach.
    The last point I would like to make is about apple devices being refered to as restrictive, where things that are allowed on android are not allowed on apple etc. This is simple. Apple are totally committed to the user experience and therefore they feel that there needs to be some level of restriction in order to meet or exceed their commitment. In society, we have law and order to preserve safe, free and secure environment and this is no different at a system level . There is also an alternative that is available should one wishes not to adhere to this framework which is devised for maximum benefit to the majority, just jailbrake the device.

  27. David Harvey

    Hi Jonathan,

    I’ve been using Android Since 2011 and loving it, I tried out the Nexus 4 last week however the mic sounds distorted when doing Audioboos and Voxing. Phone calls are not afected.

    So I returned the device to 2Degrees and got a full refund.

  28. John H

    Hi Jonathan,
    I thought your article was well done. I’d just like to add another reason why I want android accessibility to succeed that hasn’t really been addressed in the comments.
    In short, Android is starting to move beyond the realm of the phone and tablet into other devices like televisions and home appliances. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Android was shown powering a smart oven with a built-in touch screen. If I’m not mistaken a washing machine was also demonstrated that ran on Android.
    If the platform has compelling accessibility APIs and a decent screen reader, there’s at least a chance that some or all categories of new Android powered devices will be accessible to the blind. I understand that many manufacturers use highly customized versions of android and home grown user interfaces. Despite this, some android users on the accessibility mailing list are reporting that talkback is largely compatible with several media playing devices and Google televisions on the market. As such we may benefit from accidental accessibility. In addition, Android should make it easier for manufacturers who truly care about making devices accessible to do so because of its built-in tools.
    IOS is wonderful and I own an iPod touch. However, given Apple’s degree of control over the ecosystem I don’t believe IOS will have the reach of Android with respect to the quantity and type of devices available in the future. I am not trying to bash IOS as I believe it is a compelling product. I also understand that my argument is somewhat speculative as Android is far from a default for powering home appliances or entertainment center add-ons at this point. Just some food for thought though.

  29. rami

    hello,
    for those who want to get started with android devices, is there any available web resource where one can visit or join to acquire the basics of Android? i mean a mailing list, podcast feed or website like applevis.

  30. GerardoGerardo

    Wow Jonathan! Exactly how I think when you say that blind people should have varied options of choosing the right phone as the sighted! Especially on Spanish lists of Iphone where people often ask which is better, and upon reading the replies of no no Iphone is the best etc, I come along, and like you, say wait wait: I’m one of thowe weird people who likes to be neutral; most important the economic factor especially here in Latinamerica where the situation among the blind isn’t that great like in developped countries; what will you use the phone for? Are you those who like to experiment, or who likes to have everything working in order? Great post!

  31. Dan Mathis

    :), I am a android avicate, teach android at my job and IOS. I have a GS3, fine a persons comment sorta funny when they call the GS3 slow. Um… no!, IOS I will give a texas sise tip of my hat to for accessibility. However, I will not now say that IOS is still ahead of android totally in accessibility. One comment I hear that is brought up time and time again is the Iheart radio app. Its mostly accessible on jelly bean using the touch screen and the swiping gesters. A few labels need to be labeled but out side of that it works for me. I am running a GS3 from t-mobile its not rooted at all. Also, a few apps for note taking exist that are very well, OI note, episal 🙂 and for recording HI-Q recorder. Again, I had 2 Ipod touches, sold them and never looked back. Now my mission is to get IOS devs to open there eyes to the increase profit of supporting android. One dev said they would have to make 20 apps just to cover all android devices? What “look tell” are you drinking and can you please pass it my way. Sounds like good stuff their getting buzzed off of :).

  32. Austin Grace

    Hello to all. I have just purchased a galaxy s4. The lg mach turned out to be a real heap of junk. Just this week it just started to freeze on me and missing phone calls. Plus ICS was just not there in accessibility. this s4 I bought has the 4.2.2 version of android. I’m really excited to play with it.

  33. Tasha

    I guess i’m one of the few blind people who still hasn’t gotten an Iphone. I’m stuck in Symbian land, so definitely want Android accessibility to improve, because there are things I hate about Symbian. plus, nobody uses it anymore. But I don’t see the Iphone as the answer, because I do do a lot of one-handed typing and navigation, and I would hate to have to cut and paste everything.

    I really think that Jaws should enter the smartphone market. I can’t stand any of the voices available for the Iphone, I prefer Jaws over Voiceover, and would love to use the same type of screenreading solution on my phone and on my computer.

  34. Tasha

    P.S. For reasons you and Marco described, I don’t think Android accessibility is there yet.

  35. Chris Gjray

    Great article, Jonathan. What appeals to me most about Android is its continued improvements but mostly its openness. Personally, I find the phone when used with an external blue tooth keyboard the best solution for me.

  36. Alexander

    I more or less agree what you say. But I must say whats makes me very angry is that Google devs just don’t take care and fix serius buggs. e.g many spesially blinds are making phonecall and come to switchboard were you now a days mead to make an selection by pressing one of the num-keys. But with talkbakc it diden’t work. And it took so long time before they are fixing buggs like that. For me that is a serius because it is very trickey to call phone-banks an other companys like that.
    In my opinion google does not take accesibillity seriusly enough. Like Apple are doing. I would like to change from ios to Android, but it is still impossible.

  37. Shane Davidson

    I said this on twitter, and I’ll say it here again and I’ll even squish it into list form, why? Because I can.

    We, the blind community need a healthy dose of reality, that reality being compitition.
    This not only extends to our mobile platforms, android, apple, etc. but to our computing lives, mac vs. Windows, NVDA vs. JAWS or window-eyes. Everything has it’s place, and i run all three major screen readers, NVDA< JAWS< and window-eyes because each one of them has there strengths. But that's not why I'm commenting so let's move on.
    I’ve been accused of being an apple fanperson, I say get a mac jokingly, I get told I’m beating the apple drum and to stop it. I am absolutely not saying apple’s better than anything else, because there not. They have there place, just like windows. THis is like android, it’s come a looong way from the old days of gingerbread, and believe me, I am seriously considering a purchase of a tablit of some sort, just to have one to play with to keep up with the ever changing markit

    Yes, I use an Iphone5, but I also use a windows computer, I have experience on a mac, I have played with demo android devices. We need healthy compitition, and it’s what’s happening. If you like IOS, that’s your choice, android your morning cup of coffee? Hey, have at it. But don’t sit there like some of the blind community and try and shove it down everyone’s throat like that bar of chocolate you ate for lunch. It’ll get you nowhere. JOnahthan’s done an excellent job on this article, and I look forward to more.

  38. James Jolley

    I really enjoyed this post, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Yesterday, I decided to go out and try an Android device, having been an Apple mac/IOS user for years. So, I arrived and asked to look at the google nexus 7, as this is the one everyone tells me is good for blind users.

    We get talkback on, I manage to go through the tutorial well enough, apart from the chattyness of the system I thought I was on to a winner. Then, for fun, I attempt to try the browser. Opened a URL, nothing. Nothing read at all. So, I decided to reset the device by restarting it via it’s power button. My partner who’s sighted informed me that a message, “Chrome is not responding” appeared on the tablet’s screen, though it wasn’t voiced. By this point, I just didn’t care enough. The purpose of these devices is to use the internet and such, and I couldn’t even get the system to navigate a site reliably?

    Sorry Google, no chance, nice that you tried to make it accessible with your hacky solutions but I am not interested. Even the Surface RT had better accessibility, and yes I did try it at the same store.

    As a computer user of some 20 plus years, Android is a no go and I doubt i’ll be convinced any other way. IOS did one thing right, experience. It’s sad because I wanted to love it, I wanted to walk out with that nexus.

    • Blind Freedom

      The reason why web pages don’t speak is because there is a feature you have to enable in the accessibility settings and then it will work.
      Yes, I know its a little poor, but that is the way it is on Android at the moment I’m afraid.
      thanks.

      • James Jolley

        Fair enough but if you’re not told this then what are you expected to do? Sit and wait for no speech? Tap fingers? What? Android is a waste of time until Google actually bother to implement accessibility rather than hack it. Typical Google though, first they steal our info, then they try to engineer it, then they tell us how to access it there way, then they create an inaccessible OS, then bolt on accessibility. I’m done with them until they show some honest stance. As I said, I wanted to give it an honest go, but if my first experience of it is to have Chrome crash and the browser not to even speak then forget it. No amount of pressing this accessibility option, hoping this script will work on this page type salute won’t make a difference. That’s not accessibility out of the box, it’s making assumptions about what a user should be prepared to put up with.

        • Blind Freedom

          I agree with you and I fealt the same when I first took a look at it.
          In fairness, although android is still quite far fom the Apple experience, it has made major progress in the last year or so and one day I’m sure it will be as good.
          I do have an Android device myself so I can keep up with the latest developments, but for the day-to-day business its still Apple that saves the day.
          thanks.

  39. Dallas O'Brien

    hi, yes, the hole script to browse thing just gets to me.
    it also means that you’re at higher risk, as the scripting they are using, has security flaws from time to time, and of course, if you turn it off to preserve security when those bugs are there, your browsing gos by by as well.
    I’m still thinking about getting a tablet, but most of the cheep ones don’t tend to run stock OS from what i can tell. so that makes accessibility iffy at best.
    android is coming a long way, and in fact, the tools and API’s are offten already in the system, ready to be used, its just that app dev’s still aren’t using them properly. at least, not all dev’s. some do, obviously. just look at each android conference there has been for the last few years. each year, they have entire demos, hours long, on how to make your apps accessible with android and talk back, and it works perfectly well, minus of course a few lacking navigational commands that I’d like to see. but dev’s are just still not putting in that support. so in all truth, its not android that’s not accessible so much, its the apps. Google keeps proving each year, that its putting in the support, if the dev’s want to take advantage of it.

    • Blind Freedom

      If accessibility support at the core operating system on Android is the same as Apple as indicated as above, then why is it that more apps on the apple are accessible than Android??
      Apple does not mandate accessibility so what is it that encourages Apple app developers to comply with the accessibility framework???
      Perhaps is it a lot easier on Apple than Android?????

  40. david

    Hi people.
    I have recently switched from Apple to Android, i was tired of Apple’s one Phone a year, and when the phone does come out the Hardware never seems to keep up with my Samsung Galaxy S4 for example. Anyway i wanted to ask for Help. On the IOS version of Accessibility the on screen Keyboard was great as you find the Letter you want, then double tap to enter it, but Android’s keyboard on Jelly Bean is much harder to use in my opinion. So i was wondering if anyone knows of a Third Party keyboard i could use that is similar to the IOS? I’m purchasing a blutooth Keyboard for the time being, but i want to be able to use it when i’m out without having to carry a Keyboard with me. Any help on this would be greatly Appreciated. Thanks Dave

  41. Deborah Armstrong

    There’s definitely a need for high-quality Android accessibility training. I’ve talked to at least seven blind people just this past two months who all asked me for help with their device. I’ve never used Android, but people think cuz I’m a geek I should know their solution! I truly hope you can turn the Nexus in to a revenue generator for yourself by creating and selling some tutorials. I’d like somewhere I can send those Android-owning friends.

  42. Dakotah Rickard

    Hi all.
    I read loads of the comments and decided, eventually, to put my own two cents in.
    First of all, the poignant and plain fact is that iOS is the best in terms of touchscreen accessibility. It’s polished, snazzy, and filled with useful features.
    Android, however, is less accessible. Everyone knows this. I doubt any one person would pick up an Android device and an iOS device and judge the Android one superior, strictly in terms of accessibility.
    That being said, all of the points raised about why Android should succeed are valid. More than that, they are important. Because Android is free to implement, it’s everywhere. I’m surprised that there aren’t Android cars out there with embedded Google products.
    The thing is, it really is about personal taste. Frankly, I’ve played around with a Samsung Galaxy S3 running Android 4.2, A Modorola Citrus running 2.6, and very briefly with an HTC Thunderbolt running 4.1. I also own an iPhone 5, after switching from Windows Mobile 6.5 with MobileSpeak Smartphone.
    Frankly, there are features I prefer from each that none of the others have. Voiceover has intuitive gestures which don’t require as many weird memorization tricks to master. MSP offers quick and convenient device support for phones with keyboards whereas finding a keyboard equipped phone is highly problematic in terms of Android. Android has a very active development scene, filled with entrepid pioneers. Maybe one of them will give talkback the intuitive feel and convenience of Voiceover. Maybe they already have, and we just haven’t heard about it. By comparison, iOS development is stodgy and limited. Plus, I much prefer the Android price point and device options, and I’d like them all to be useable.
    I guess the point behind all of this long and rambling post is this. Without growth, there is stagnation. Without options there is no growth. Without Android accessibility, Apple will not care to continue trying harder, because what they have works. Without such efforts from both companies, we have stagnation, ad none of us wants to go back to the old days.

    Finally, a quick, unrelated ps, because so many people don’t really know about this, shockingly.
    Touch Typing mode in Voiceover makes typing a much faster, more reasonable experience. In fact, though I won’t be breaking any speed records on the iPhone, I’ve actually typed fast enough to crash Voiceover on my iPhone 5, hitting a speed of about 5 characters a second. That’s frankly not bad, and all it took was touch typing and a little muscle memory. give it a try and don’t give up.

  43. Josh

    I don’t use windows or mac on any of my computers. I use desktop Linux with the Orca Screen rEader, specifically vinux4 on one refurbished laptop and sonar13.04 on a newer on with uefi- boot. I use the gnome and unity desktops with the Orca screen reader and voxin-eloquence or cepstral for my tts engines and espeak also. and google chrome also works on those systems as well. They are open like android. I also want to announce here that a good desktop Linux system depending on your needs can work just as well as, and maybe even better than windows7 or windows8. And if you have 4gigs of memory in the computer or more you can run windows7 or xp inside the free vmware player no problems and you can install windows without sighted help. And also install linux without sighted help just like you can with a mac. If I have to convert ebooks I use calibre, and for certain windows apps and games windows inside of vmware player works great! If anyone is interested I will sell you a custom refurbished vinux4 or sonar13 laptop for $250, cheaper than windows laptops and linux makes them run so much faster. even the internet speed will be faster due to how desktop linux handles networking versus how windows handles it. And like the mac I set up a custom shortcut to turn the screen reader and magnifier on and off. usb and bluetooth displays just work when connected. I can go anywhere online and not worry about some script installing a virus and ruining the computer. so anyways, $250 for a custom linux laptop and $10 per hour for training or tech support. If something goes really wrong, $20 per repair or a restore to defaults. you can email me at and I will spell out the email address so it is not rejected… j o s h k n n d 1 9 8 2 at sign g m a i l dot c o m …

  44. Josh

    also desktop linux does audio editing with audacity dvd ripping with handbrake, email with thunderbird the web with firefox getting chrome set up is possible but a bit harder and firefox works out of the box flash and youtube work great too… I listen to radio with vlc, and will be testing out flightgear an open source flight simulator with sounds to see if it works with orca, I heard it does. Update manager updates all your apps at once unlike windows where you have to go download the updates. want a mac and can’t afford one? price too high? buy a custom desktop-linux laptop from me then. works with wired and wireless and bluetooth keyboards, webcams wireless headsets with microphones braile displays scanners using speedy-ocr and printers and more. turn libreoffice the office suite into a fully featured braille authoring tool for fre supports several popular embossers produces english and other foreign language braille. also lets you use six key braille entry in the office suite. due to how desktop-linux is and behaves you don’t have to defragment hard drives or use registry cleaners at all. do audio conversion with sound converter and more… voc rehab counselors would save money if they offered clients computers with a desktop-linux operating system with an easy to use graphical interface. Orca is also scriptable just like jaws. just need a developer to convert the nvda google speech recognizer addon to something useable by orca and its all set. I don’t feel a need to use windows except for in vmware to play audio games.

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