Android Pie Accessibility for Vision Impairment

Whenever my Android phone gets a new software update, I like to immediately check out what’s new in accessibility settings for users with vision impairment. Since I have a Google Pixel 2, I received the opportunity to update my phone’s operating system from Android Oreo (8.1) to Android Pie (9.0) before the update is pushed to more phones this fall. Today, I will be sharing what’s new with Android Pie, and my tips and tricks for making Android Pie accessible for vision impairment.

Search in settings

The settings menu now features a search bar at the top where users can type in what they are trying to change, and then they can select the option that best fits their needs- no more scrolling through a seemingly endless amount of menus trying to find a specific setting. This is perfect for when someone is first setting up their phone for vision impairment- read about my accessibility settings for other versions of Android here.

Screenshot of search bar at the top of settings menu

Screenshot of search bar with the word "text" and suggestions including font size and changing default SMS app

Accessibility menu

The accessibility menu is a new feature in Android Pie that allows people to push on screen buttons to activate common functions such as Google Assistant, notifications, volume keys, lock screen, app switcher, and power button. This is especially useful for people with limited hand strength or that prefer to use the screen for navigation. Speaking of Google Assistant, read more about how I use the camera feature here.

A 3 by 3 grid with colorful icons that displays the Google Assistant, accessibility shortcut, power button, and other controls. The phone background is Veronica's dog who has light brown fur and green eyes

The accessibility menu featuring a peek at my dog, who is my phone wallpaper

Accessibility shortcut

My phone has four touch screen based buttons across the bottom. From left to right, there is a back key, a home key, a more options key, and an accessibility key. The accessibility shortcut can be configured to be a quick way to activate select-to-speak, magnifier, or the accessibility menu for people who use these tools frequently. They can be used in any app without having to navigate to a new menu first. Read more about app accessibility here.

Volume key shortcut

I frequently use the select-to-speak screen reader and the magnifier functions on my phone. Before the update, the only accessibility shortcut was the bottom button. However with Android Pie, now users can hold down both volume keys and activate select accessibility functions such as TalkBack, select-to-speak, color inversion, color correction colorblindness display, accessibility menu, or switch access. I decided to configure mine so that select-to-speak is activated when I squeeze the volume buttons.

Remove animations

I am sensitive to moving images and flashing lights, so I was interested to see the option to remove animations in the accessibility settings menu. While it isn’t a noticeable decrease, I appreciate having the option to turn off parallax and unnecessary flashing effects when navigating between apps. I also have this setting on my iPad- read more about my iPad accessibility settings here.

Light or dark theme

Black text on a white background can be difficult to focus on for long periods of time due to the glare. With Android Pie, users now have the option to have a dark background with light colored text displayed on select menus, such as in the status bar. Read more about how colored backgrounds impact the readability of text here.

Screenshot of the settings bar with a black background and white text

Dark mode in the status bar

High contrast text

High contrast text has been available in previous versions of Android, but it’s still worth noting here since it is a little-known feature. For apps with a colored background, the text is switched to be white text with a black outline, or black text with a white online. This way, text can be viewed with clarity no matter what the background color is. Read more about how to find easy-to-read fonts for vision impairment here.

Rearrange status bar settings

One of the features I have been most excited about is the ability to rearrange quick settings in the status bar. The default order of settings in the status bar did not make sense for me and my needs, so I was able to remove settings buttons I never use and drag the ones I use the most to the first line- no more scrambling to find night mode when my eyes are fatigued. Read more about managing eye fatigue with technology here.

Screenshot of A 3 by 3 grid that shows different phone settings including wifi, flashlight, hotspot, airplane mode, battery saver, auto-rotate, do not disturb, mobile data, and night mode

The screen to rearrange icons

Should I upgrade to Android Pie?

Every user is different, but if you are interested in any of the above accessibility features, I recommend updating to Android Pie if your phone supports it- unless you have a Pixel XL, as many people have reported issues with the rapid charging feature following the update. The software update will be rolled out to more users in the fall and will also come with bug fixes and other improvements in the near future. As for me, I have really enjoyed getting to explore the new vision impairment accessibility features in Android Pie, and look forward to seeing more features added to Android in future releases.

 

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