Did you know that there are many different options for blind and partially sighted users when it comes to accessing technology? As we continue our series on built-in accessibility, let’s look at features designed to assist users with little or no vision that come pre-installed and require little or no setup.
Apple products currently lead the charge for built-in accessibility because all the features are integrated, providing a streamlined user experience, regardless of your level of vision. To access the accessibility features go to Settings > General > Accessibility.
VoiceOver – Voiceover is designed to read the contents of the screen out loud, Apple’s VoiceOver feature actually integrates with all other built-in apps, giving users a truly hands-free experience. For example, just ask Siri to “turn VoiceOver on”, and the feature will be enabled.
Screen and font adjustments – Allows users to adjust contrast, font size and type, and choose from a variety of colour tints and shades, so you can find the colour scheme that’s perfect for you.
Zoom – Have you ever needed to magnify something to 1500% percent, without using your hands? If you’re a smartphone user with low vision, you just might have! Zoom is integrated with VoiceOver so users can zoom as much or as little as needed, and still have a truly hands-free experience.
Magnifier – Ever wish your smartphone could act like a digital magnifying glass? Magnifier does exactly that, allowing users with low vision to more easily read documents, lists, menus, and much more.
Siri – Siri is a digital assistant that can do virtually anything. Need a definition of a word? Directions? Tickets to the big game? Siri is integrated with VoiceOver, so you can ask where the nearest convenience store is, and you’ll get your answer read out loud.
Windows 10 doesn’t quite match up to Apple. The technology does exist for Windows, but you’ll have to pay for it. Windows 10 features are good for getting started and are often enough to help with the setup of necessary software, but they don’t offer users a complete experience. To access Windows built-in accessibility features go to Settings > Ease of Access.
Narrator – Reads all the elements on screen out loud. While this is valuable to become familiarized with the Windows 10 interface, Narrator is incompatible with third party software and apps, thereby greatly limiting its functionality. If you simply want to explore the basics of your computer through voice prompts, this is a helpful feature.
Speech recognition – Wish you could tell your computer what to do? Speech Recognition allows users to control the screen with various voice commands. While this feature would be quite useful for those with low vision, it is of very little help to users with no vision.
Magnifier and Contrast – These features allow users with low vision to magnify the contents of the screen so they no longer have to struggle. Also a good variety of pre-set, high contrast colour themes are available. However, third party apps and websites don’t always support this feature.
While Android products are still playing catch up in terms of accessibility features, Android developers have slowly but surely been improving. Because Android apps are not subject to the same strict parameters as Apple, there is a lack of consistency when it comes to accessible Android apps and features. To access Android accessibility features go to Settings > Accessibility.
Braille Display – Ever wish you could connect your braille device to your smartphone? With this feature, users can access a refreshable braille display with their smartphone. Braille Display integrates with the TalkBack feature, which gives spoken feedback to users, describing what they touch, select, and activate. However, the TalkBack feature may not come pre-installed on all smartphones.
Voice Assistant – Voice Assistant is similar to the Apple VoiceOver feature, but unlike VoiceOver, it does not integrate seamlessly with other apps and features, making it a decent support for users with low vision but not especially helpful for blind users.
Screen and Font adjustments – Allows the user to make subtle adjustments to your colour scheme or fonts for those with low vision.
When it comes to built-in accessibility for blind users, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Of the three devices we looked at today, only Apple devices offered a completely accessible experience. That being said, all of these companies have made significant strides in accessibility over the past 5 years, and continue to make new advances in assistive technology every day.
This article was written thanks to a collaborative effort between the Neil Squire Society and the New Brunswick chapter of CNIB (new window)