Accessibility in our age of mobile technology is a pretty inspiring thing.
I mean, think about it: These powerful little computers we carry around in our purses and pantaloon pockets have the potential to open up all sorts of futuristic possibilities. Their effects can be downright life-changing for folks with issues like impaired hearing or limited vision — and in the grand scheme of things, those sorts of advancements are far more meaningful than any random phone feature we use to organize our lives or save ourselves a few seconds here and there.
Here’s the cool part, though: Those two areas don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Some of Android’s most interesting accessibility options are poised to both help those who truly need ’em and be handy in a way that can benefit anyone. They work for accessibility, sure, but they’re also valuable for far more mundane productivity gains.
Take a few minutes to explore some of these out-of-the-way Android accessibility treasures and see if any of ’em might bring a welcome boost to your own personal work routine.
[Want even more advanced Android knowledge? Check out my free Android Shortcut Supercourse to learn tons of time-saving tricks!]
Android accessibility feature No. 1: Advanced voice control
Android’s long had commendable systems for controlling your phone via voice, but a widely available accessibility service can take things even further and let you accomplish practically anything on your device simply by speaking a command.
The tool in question is a saucy little somethin’ called Voice Access. With recent Android versions, the feature’s built right into the operating system and just waiting to be found. If you’re using a more dated device, you might have to download and then open Google’s official Voice Access app before it’ll be available.
Either way, once it’s there, you should be able to get to the Voice Access settings by searching your phone’s system settings for the term Voice Access (imagine that!).
The first time you fire it up, the system will walk you through some quick initial setup stuff — granting the necessary permissions, turning on a few settings to make sure things work the way they should, and so on.
- I’d suggest leaving the “Listening Button” option disabled and either relying on the persistent notification you’ll see in your notification panel to get the system going or, better yet, simply saying Hey Google, start Voice Access whenever you want to use the feature.
- You can also opt to have the system automatically listen for commands whenever your screen turns on, but unless you’re using Voice Access constantly, that’s probably not the most advisable option in terms of power consumption.
- I’d also suggest looking for the “Voice Access Settings” line in that same area of your system settings and turning the toggle next to “Activate for incoming calls” into the off position. If you don’t do that, Voice Access will activate itself every single time your phone rings. That’s an important function for actual accessibility purposes, but unless you have those sorts of needs, you probably won’t want it happening all the time.
Got it? Good. Now, for the fun part: Once Voice Access is listening, you can bark out practically any command you can come up with and have the system handle your bidding. At the simplest level, you can tell the thing to tap or even long-press anything visible on your screen — an icon, a button, some text, you name it — and Voice Access will do it for you, without a single fingie-lift required.
But beyond that, you can issue useful voice commands like:
- Scroll up (or down or left or right, even)
- Scroll to top (or bottom)
- Go back
- Go home
- Open notifications
- Expand (or collapse) notification
- Show Quick Settings
- Show recent apps
- Turn up (or down) volume
- Mute (or unmute) media (or phone or alarm) volume
You can also tell Voice Access to type any text you want to dictate and then use advanced editing commands for things like:
- Insert some phrase before (or after or between) some other phrase
- Replace some word or phrase with some other word or phrase
- Capitalize (or lowercase) some word
- Select certain specific text (or all text)
- Delete from some specific word to some other specific word
- Delete the next 10 (or however many) sentences
And the list of possibilities goes on and on from there.
Pretty forkin’ powerful, wouldn’t ya say?
Android accessibility feature No. 2: Futuristic face gestures
This next Android accessibility gem is almost eerily futuristic. It’s an option that quite literally lets you control your phone with your face. (Yes, really!)
So a glance to the left, for instance, might take the place of the typical system-level Back gesture. A glance upward could open your notifications. And a coy-looking eyebrow raise could take you back to your home screen (as well as make anyone around you think you’re the most awkward person alive).
The possibilities only keep going from there. You could teach your Android phone to open your Quick Settings panel when you open your mouth, even, or to open the app-switching Overview interface whenever you flash a winning grin. (Just be sure to avoid using the system whilst eating deli meat, as all of the chomping and salami-induced smiling could really make your phone go bananas.)
This is some seriously wild stuff, and it works almost shockingly well. And as long as you’ve got a phone running Android 12 or higher, it’s already on your device and waiting to be discovered:
- Start by searching your system settings for the phrase Switch Access.
- Tap the line labeled “Switch Access” in the results — and be sure to tap the actual line, not the toggle next to it. You might have to then tap “Switch Access” one more time after that.
- Turn the toggle next to “Switch Access” into the on position and follow the prompt to grant the system the permissions it needs to operate. (They may sound like a lot, but (a) they’re clearly necessary for this manner of operation — and (b) this is a system-level, Google-made service we’re talking about, so you aren’t actually granting access to any kind of third-party entity, anyway. The prompt is just a formality that comes up anytime this manner of access is required.)
- Next, tap “Settings” and then “Camera Switch settings,” then turn the toggle next to “Use Camera Switches” into the on position.
- Now just look through all of the available face gesture options and tap each one to see how it works and what you can set it to do.
The simplest thing to try is setting some of the gestures to control your basic system navigation — y’know, commands like going back a step, returning to your home screen, opening your system Overview interface, and maybe also opening your notifications and/or Quick Settings area.
The other thing I’d suggest is tapping the option on the main “Switch Access” settings screen for “Switch access shortcut.” That’ll let you set the system up to be active and watching for your commands whenever you press and hold both volume keys down together and then to turn itself off with the next press of those buttons so it isn’t always running and using power even when you aren’t actively using it.
How’s that for a cool tech trick?!
Android accessibility feature No. 3: On-demand closed captioning
I don’t know about you, but I frequently find myself in a situation where I want to peek at a video or maybe even listen in to a quick part of a podcast in public — when I don’t necessarily have headphones handy.
And being that I, unlike an ever-increasing number of humans in our society, do still have some manner of decency, I’m not one to just blare the audio out of my phone’s speaker in a way that drives everyone else around me batty.
With phones running 2019’s Android 10 software and higher, Google’s got your back. A brilliant Android accessibility feature called Live Caption lets you see a real-time transcription of anything being said in any audio on your phone without having to have the volume up and actually audible.
It’s a powerful way to empower yourself to read any multimedia without having it make a peep. And it couldn’t be much easier to activate.
Provided your phone is running Android 10 or higher, just hit your physical volume-up or volume-down key and then look for the somewhat ambiguous box-with-a-line-through-it icon at the bottom of the on-screen volume panel that pops up. (On certain devices, you might have to tap a three-dot menu icon within the volume panel before you’ll see it.) Tap that box, and boom: You’ve got on-demand captioning for whatever audio is playing.
You can also double-tap the caption box to make it bigger or press and hold it to move it around anywhere on your screen. Just be sure to hit your volume-up or volume-down button again when you’re done and turn the feature back off to avoid having it run all the time and taking an unnecessary toll on your battery.
On behalf of everyone around you in the real world: Thank you.
Android accessibility feature No. 4: Smart sound alerts
While we’re talkin’ about turning audio into text, another Android accessibility feature worth tuning into is the relatively new Sound Notifications system.
Sound Notifications does — well, exactly what it sounds like: When activated, the system will listen for a variety of important real-world sounds and then notify you anytime they’re detected.
The current list of options includes:
- Smoke and fire alarms
- Baby sounds
- Doorbell rings
- Dog barks
- Appliance beeps
- Running water
- Landline phone rings
- Person eating deli meat with way too much enthusiasm*
The accessibility benefit here is obvious, for anyone who’s hard of hearing — but even if your ears are exceptional, having this extra ability could be extraordinarily helpful when you’ve got earbuds in or are otherwise tuned out from the world.
If you’re using a Google-made Pixel phone, search your system settings for Sound Notifications to get started. On any other Android device, you’ll need to download the Google-made Live Transcribe & Notification app to make the same function available.
* Just kidding about that last one. But maybe one day?!
Android accessibility feature No. 5: Smart sound amplification
We’ve all been there: in a loud room with lots of background noise and something you’d like to hear more clearly in the distance — an important speech, a mortal enemy’s whispers, or maybe a beautiful birdy’s tranquil tweets. (Personally, I usually find it to be a mix of all three at the same time. But that’s just me.)
Well, meet Android’s awesome and oft-overlooked Sound Amplifier. The feature allows you to selectively minimize background noise while amplifying the actual sound you want to hear, all through your regular ol’ phone and a pair of ordinary headphones.
Sound Amplifier is already installed and available on recent Pixel devices. Just search your system settings for Sound Amplifier to find and activate it.
On any other device, the official Google Sound Amplifier app will get you the same goodies — so long as your phone is running 2017’s Android 8.1 update or higher (and if it isn’t, pal, we’ve got bigger fish to fry).
Android accessibility feature No. 6: A personal pop-up menu
Using a phone single-handedly is sometimes easier said than done — especially if you’ve got a larger device. But wait! There might be a better way: Android has a hidden option to create an extra bottom-of-screen menu that puts common commands in a more convenient place.
Head back into the Accessibility section of your system settings, and this time, tap the line labeled “Accessibility Menu.” Activate the toggle on the next screen that comes up, and you’ll see a nifty new little green tabby-tab button thingamajigger (which may or may not be its official name) along the lower-right side of your screen — or possibly an icon within the bottom row of buttons, if you’re still using Android’s old legacy three-button nav system instead of the current gesture standard.
Tap that son of a gibbon, and you’ll find your newly present on-demand menu — with options for things like pulling up your phone’s power menu, capturing a screenshot with a fast tap, and even locking your device in a jiff.
Provided you’ve got the tabby-tab button thingamajigger, take note, too, that you can press and hold the button to move it anywhere on any edge of your screen and even slide it slightly farther out of view to make it less distracting.
It’s just handy enough to be worthwhile for the right sort of workflow.
Android accessibility feature No. 7: A faster hang-up option
Ever find yourself finishing a phone call while walking, performing an elaborate tango dance, or unicycling down a busy street? (Hey, I don’t know what kind of crazy hijinks you get up to.) Even if you’re just doing some ordinary on-the-go activity and want an easier way to disconnect without having to futz around on your screen, this next Android accessibility option could be just the thing for you.
Open up your system settings and search for Power button. Tap the line labeled “Power button ends call,” then activate the toggle to enable it.
And that’s it: You can now press your phone’s physical power button anytime you want to hang up an ongoing call. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Android accessibility feature No. 8. Bigger text for tired eyes
There’s no shame in the occasional long-distance squinting effort, but gosh darn it, we all have days when the text on our fancy phone screens seems slightly too small to read comfortably — even when it’s right in front of our faces. (If you don’t have those days yet, just wait. You will.)
Android’s got a few built-in options for giving your eyes a break, all tucked away within the Accessibility section of your system settings — likely within a “Display size and text” or “Visibility enhancements” menu. Specifically:
- Font size will adjust the main text on your screen (in apps and even throughout the actual Android interface) to make it universally larger — or even smaller, for matter, if you for some reason want that.
- Display size changes the actual scale of your phone to make everything bigger — kind of like the equivalent of adjusting the resolution on your computer. (Samsung renames this to “Screen zoom” on its devices, by the way, for no apparent reason.)
- Bold text does exactly what you’d expect and makes all the text throughout your phone bolder and thus easier to see.
Separately, Android’s accessibility suite includes a magnification option that makes it easy to zoom into specific areas of your screen on demand and make ’em larger — like you’re looking at ’em through a magnifying glass. If you look carefully within the options for that setting, you’ll find the ability to turn the magnifier on and off with a triple-tap on your screen, which is really the easiest and most effective way to handle it.
Android accessibility feature No. 9: A speed boost
Speed demons, take heed: You can shift any Android device into turbo mode by flipping on a power-packed setting buried in the operating system’s Accessibility settings area.
It’s called “Remove animations,” and it does exactly what you’d think: It disables all animations throughout the Android interface (and it doesn’t require you to activate and poke around in Android’s developer settings, either, as the more common method of disabling animations does).
Sounds a little strange, I realize, but take it for a spin, and you’ll see what I mean: Without all those transitions in place — the sliding from one screen to another, fading from this element to the next one, and so on — you feel like you’re absolutely flying around your phone at the speed of light. You do give up on a bit of the polished and cohesive feel that comes with having animations in place, but you might find the snappy satisfaction gained in return to be worth the tradeoff — at least some of the time.
Best of all? Just like any of these features, if you try it out for a while and then decide it’s not for you, all you’ve gotta do is flip a switch to turn it back off and get back to the way things were before. Presto change-o, indeed.
Get even more advanced Android-enhancing knowledge with my free Android Shortcut Supercourse. You’ll learn tons of time-saving tricks for your phone!
Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.