Make Your Life Easier with Android's Accessibility Features

Try out custom audio, visual, and input settings

hands texting with mobile phones in cafe
Tara Moore / Getty Images

Smartphones are designed to be easy to use, but one size does not fit all. Fonts might be hard to read, colors hard to distinguish, or sounds hard to hear. You may have issues with tapping and double tapping on icons and other gestures. Android has a bunch of accessibility features that make it easier to see and interact with your screen and receive notifications.

Under settings, you'll find a section for accessibility.

How it's organized will depend on the version of Android that you're running. For example, my Samsung Galaxy S6, which runs Android Marshmallow with Samsung's TouchWiz overlay, Accessibility settings are organized by vision, hearing, dexterity and interaction, more settings, and services. (That last one is simply a list of services that can be enabled in accessibility mode.)

However, on my Motorola X Pure Edition, also running Marshmallow, but on stock Android, organizes it by services, system, and display. I like the way the Galaxy S6 is organized, so I'll use that to conduct the walkthrough. See the Android Accessibility help center for help with older versions of the operating system.

Vision

Voice Assistant. This feature helps you navigate your screen. The assistant will tell you what you can interact with on the screen. You can tap items to hear what they are and then double tap them to complete the action.

When you enable voice assistant, a tutorial automatically walks you through how it works. (See my accessibility slideshow for more detail.) It also outlines which functions can't be used while the assistant is enabled.

Text-to-speech. If you need help reading content on your mobile device, you can use text-to-speech to have it read to you.

You can select the language, speed (speech rate), and service. Depending on your setup, this will a choice of Google, your manufacturer, and any third party apps you've downloaded.

Accessibility shortcut. Use this to turn on accessibility features in two steps: press and hold the power key until you hear a sound or feel a vibration, then touch and hold with two fingers until you hear audio confirmation.

Voice Label. This feature helps you interact with objects outside of your mobile device. You can write voice recordings to NFC tags to provide information about nearby objects.

Font size. Adjust the font size from the default size (small) to tiny to huge to extra huge.

High contrast fonts. This simply makes text stand out better against the background.

Show button shapes adds a shaded background to make buttons stand out better. You can see how that looks in my accessibility slideshow (linked to above).

Magnifier window. Turn this on to magnify content on the screen: you can choose the zoom percentage and the size of the magnifier window.

Magnification gestures enable you to zoom in and out by triple tapping anywhere on the screen with one finger. While zoomed in you can pan by dragging two or more fingers across the screen.

Zoom in and out by pinching two or more fingers together or spreading them apart. You can also temporarily magnify what's under your finger by triple tapping and holding, then you can drag your finger to explore different parts of the screen.

Screen colors. You can change your display to grayscale, negative colors, or use color adjustment. This setting measures how you see colors with a quick test, and then determines whether you need an adjustment. If you do, you can use your camera or an image to make the adjustments.

Hearing

Sound detectors. You can enable alerts for when the phone hears a baby crying or a doorbell.

For the doorbell, it's best if placed within 3 meters and you can record your own doorbell so your device can recognize it, which is cool. For detecting a baby crying, it's best to keep your device within 1 meter of your baby with no background noise.

Notifications. You can set your phone to flash the camera light when you receive a notification or when alarms sound.

Other sound settings. Options including turning off all sound, improving the sound quality for use with hearing aids. You can also adjust the left and right sound balance for headphones and switch to mono audio when using one earphone.

Subtitles. You can turn on subtitles from Google or from your phone manufacturer (for videos, etc.) can choose the language and style for each.

Dexterity and Interaction

Universal switch can use customizable switches to interact with the device. Can use external accessories, tapping the screen, or using the front camera to detect the rotation of your head, the opening of your mouth and the blinking of your eyes.

Assistant menu. Enabling this gives you quick access to common settings and recent apps. Assistant plus shows contextual menu option for selected applications in the assistant menu.

Other interaction settings include set dominant hand, reorder or remove menu, and adjust touchpad size, cursor size, and cursor speed.

Easy screen turn on. Turn screen on by moving your hand above the sensor; an animated screenshot shows you how.

Touch and hold delay. You can set the delay as short (0.5 seconds), medium (1.0 second), long, (1.5 seconds), or custom.

Interaction control. With this, you can block areas of the screen from touch interaction. You can set a time limit if you want it to turn off automatically and can also prevent blocking the power key, volume key, and keyboard.

More Settings

Direction lock lets you unlock the screen by swiping up, down, left, or right in a series of four to eight directions. You can also turn on vibration feedback, sound feedback, show directions (arrows) and read drawn directions aloud. You'll have to set up a backup pin in case you forget your setup.

Direct access lets you add shortcuts to settings and functions. You can open accessibility settings by quickly pressing the home key three times.

Notification reminder –Set up reminders by vibration or sound when you have unread notifications. You can set reminder intervals and can choose which apps should get reminders.

Answering and ending calls. Here, you can opt to answer calls by pressing the home key, end calls by pressing the power key (love this!) or use voice commands to answer and reject calls.

Single tap mode. Easily dismiss or snooze alarms, calendar and time notifications, and answer or reject calls with a single tap.

Manage accessibility. Import and export accessibility settings or share them with other devices.