Accessible Android Setup: Best Practices and Features

woman using a smartphone

This week, Nakia is going to look at some best practices and accessibility features for Android users with visual impairments. Most of the emphasis will be put on the built-in features, but we will also look at some supplementary features and apps. We will look exclusively at the accessibility features for Android. To learn more about the built-in accessibility features that have been designed for visually-impaired iPhone users, click here.

Built-in Features

Powering up

With most modern smartphones, the power button is located on the upper right corner of the device. Squeeze and release after a few seconds to hear a chime or some haptic feedback (vibration) indicating that the phone is now on.

Digital assistant

Your digital assistant will explain what is happening on the screen, be it notifications that have just arrived, or what is populating the screen at present time.


If you are at least partially sighted, you can use this feature to magnify your screen. There are lots of configuration options available, including height, width, and magnification strength.

Universal switch

This allows you to perform most functions easily by selecting buttons instead of using gesture controls. This replaces swipes, taps, tap-holds and double tap-holds. It also employs buttons of different shapes.

Negative colors

Tries to properly invert colors to contrast the screen to help you better distinguish objects and text.

Color adjustment

Turning this on will immediately gray scale the display.

Note: To make it easier to adjust the accessibility tools that I’ve listed so far: You can enable, disable, and configure each feature quickly by using the direct access menu. To access that menu, simply triple tap the home button.

Home Screen and Folder Setup

Your home screen should be simple and easy to navigate. Other than a background image, there should be no widgets, animations or multiple-drawer app storage. My apps are organized into 5 folders:


This folder contains your web browsers, maps, quick search and a digital assistant.


This folder contains anything uses to send and receive messages, including phone, instant message clients, and e-mail.


The folder contains apps for all forms of media consumption such as YouTube, Media Center, Audible, Spotify, camera, photo gallery, and any audio configuration apps.


All things productivity go here, including connected cloud suites and services, collaboration tools, contacts, clocks, alarms, calendars, calculator, to-do lists, remote assistance client/server and translation software.


This folder contains everything related to your phone’s configuration and maintenance. This folder will contain the app store, connected device tools, authentication tools, payment options, SIM management, optional keyboards, and storage information.

More Features and Gestures

Listed below are even more accessibility features for visually impaired AT users. Most of these features need to be setup via Settings>Accessibility.

Do not disturb

Cover the screen with your hand or place the phone screen down. (Drops don’t count)

Capture screenshot

(With your hand in a chopping gesture) Place on one end of the screen and swipe to the other side.

Quick voice assist

Squeeze phone or hold the home button down for two seconds.

Answer & hang up calls

This feature allows you to vocally accept or decline a call. If the call is accepted, speakerphone will be automatically activated. You can physically press the home button to answer a call. To hang up, squeeze the power button.

SOS messages

To send an SOS message, press the power button quickly three times to send an alert to your emergency contacts. You also have the option of attaching pictures and/or audio recordings alongside your alert.

Unlock with voice

Once you’ve configured your digital assistant, you can unlock your phone with your voice by saying “Hey Google” or “OK Google”. The digital assistant will recognize only your voice and unlock your phone.


Place one finger on the screen and drag to hear what is under it. Move around the screen to get a sense of what is there and the options you have. To select what is under your finger quickly tap twice. To drag an object, double tap-hold then drag. To scroll or swipe, use two fingers.


Before you begin, while voice assistant is on. You may place three fingers on the screen to swipe up or down to control the level of granularity. Word, line or paragraph. You can move through a document by swiping with one finger left to go backward, right to go forward. Up and down to read each letter by your selected granularity.

Shade mode

While voice assistant is active, press the power button three times and the screen goes black. Simply plug in your earphones and enjoy the privacy of a blank screen.

Financial transactions

Debit Cards can be easily compromised, and when you have little or no vision, one card can feel and look just like any other. Plus, dealing with cash means you could misread or lose it, have it fall out of your hands, or even have it stolen. Thankfully, modern smartphones now come equipped with near-field communication (NFC) capability, which allows users to make payments via smartphone instead of using a debit card or cash. Place your phone near the terminal (after verifying your identity) and you’ll hear an auditory notification that the transaction has been successful. A digital receipt will then be read aloud to you.

Gesture-based passwords

Unlike the items listed above, this feature is only available as a third-party app, and does not come pre-installed on your Android device. With gesture-based passwords, users are able to configure and perform a series of gestures (instead of a traditional password) in order to unlock their phone. There are a few options available, and some of the more popular options are listed here.

Final Thoughts

With these built-in features, plus some supplementary AT on the side, modern smartphones have become more accessible than ever before. That being said, there is still lots of work to be done in this regard, and modern smartphones are still not 100% accessible upon first unboxing, which can present a significant barrier for many visually impaired users who rely on this technology to read prescription labels, recognize the faces of loved ones, access emergency assistance, travel using GPS, and many more daily activities that sighted individuals take for granted.

If you have an unused smartphone in your home and wish to put it the hands of someone who needs it, please consider donating it to CNIB.

Tags: assistive technology, AT HelpDesk

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