Android phone in home screen view displaying all the applications.

Android accessibility options for blind and hard of hearing users

A look at some of the accessibility options available on the Samsung Galaxy S 21 and other devices running Android 12.

Photo: Ramy El Zayat/Unsplash

You may have end users within your company who are either blind, deaf or hard of hearing. For these users, consideration must be given to meeting their needs. The need for accessibility doesn’t stop at users’ desktops, because they must be able to take advantage of technology just like any other employee. Fortunately, most smartphones have accessibility features built in so the device works with them, not against them.

The latest versions of Android offer a number of features that can easily enable the mobile device of the blind, deaf, or hard of hearing. I’m going to use my own Samsung Galaxy S21 to show you how Android works when accessibility is in order. Not all needs can be met, but these options can go a long way to helping many users.

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Built-in accessibility settings

Out of the box, Android 12 can do the following:

  • Say passwords as you type them.
  • Use a physical button to end calls.
  • Choose how long before your screen goes blank.
  • TalkBack: Speak all events that occur. This also works directly with the braille display and can describe text and images.
  • Hear or see descriptions of what you touch on the device.
  • Invert colors for the screen.
  • Change the font size.
  • Zoom in.
  • Activate high contrast mode.
  • Mono audio, so both audio channels are routed to a single earphone.
  • Turn off all sounds.
  • Enable tap-and-hold delay.
  • Use AI vision software to describe nearby objects.

Enable TalkBack

Let’s first examine the features to help blind users navigate their Android device.

  1. Click on the menu button.
  2. Click on Settings.
  3. Click Accessibility.
  4. Click TalkBack.
  5. Switch the slider to On (Figure A).
  6. Adjust the volume of the device to suit the user.

Figure A

Accessibility settings on the Samsung Galaxy S 21.
Photo: Megan Krause/TechRepublic

Tap the Settings button from within TalkBack (Figure b) to reveal the available configuration options. Here you can configure the following:

  • Ringer volume: Speak at all levels of ringer volume, no speech in silent mode, no speech in silent mode and vibrate.
  • Speak when screen is off: enable or disable.
  • Speak Caller ID: Enable or Disable.
  • Use proximity sensor: enable or disable.
  • Bluetooth output: enable or disable.
  • Feedback Settings: Enable or disable and set vibration settings.
  • Volume: Matches speech patterns.
  • Set Sounds: Explore by touch and explore the sounds of clickable items.

Figure b

TalkBack settings on Samsung Galaxy S 21.
Photo: Megan Krause/TechRepublic

Hearing impairment

Android 12 comes with live typing and voice notifications, automatic captions for videos and podcasts, audio amplification and settings for hearing aids. Essentially, you can pipe the two stereo channels into one, which makes it possible to hear better with just one earbud. To enable this, do the following:

  1. Click on the menu button.
  2. Click on Settings.
  3. Click Accessibility.
  4. Scroll to Hearing improvements (Figure c).
  5. Scroll down to Mono Audio.
  6. Click mono audio to enable.

Figure c

Samsung Galaxy S 21 hearing improvement settings.
Photo: Megan Krause/TechRepublic

Newer Android phone models come preloaded with apps like Select To Speak and a large accessibility menu. The Android platform is fully capable of enabling people with disabilities to benefit from the power of a smartphone.

For more information, see Five things to know about visual accessibilityAnd the Six ways to make your Word documents more accessible And the Fundamentals of digital quality.

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