Accessibility Technology

Google Accessibility Update – Live Blog Post 8 – The Android Platform

Android Platform

  • Gabe Cohen, Product Manager
  • TV Raman, Lead, Google Accessibility
  • Casey Burkhardt, Software engineer, TalkBack

TV RAMAN Background: we want to make it easy for mobile app devs to make their apps accessible.

  • First Android handset delivered in 2008
  • Accessibility API version 1.0 and TalkBack published in August 2009
  • Use what we build (I call this “eating your own dog food”)
  • Was originally focused on devices with a physical affordance on the device itself (i.e. keyboards, buttons).
  • Added gestures and actions
  • Velocity of accessibility development is proceeding with same velocity of each new OS release
Talked briefly about some important dates and things that happened in 2012, highlighted momentum of the platform (1.3 million activations a day and climbing).  Wow, isn’t that an impressive number?
June 2012
  • Been on team since June 2012
  • Nexus 7 launch
  • Jelly Bean 4.1
  • Project Butter (performance improvements in touch and visual frame rates)
  • Google Now (shows you things the OS thinks you may need at any given time – i.e. “context aware” information and functions)

October 2012

  • Nexus 4
  • Nexus 10
  • Jelly Bean 4.2
  • Multiple Users
What were Google’s goals as they pertained to accessibility in 2012?
  1. Enable completely unassisted setup
  2. Faster system navigation
  3. Reliable UI navigation
  • Easy Activation: 2 finger long-press in setup wizard
  • Accessibility Focus:  persistent focus for next action / navigation, double-tap anywhere to launch focused item
  • Reliable navigation:  navigate forward and backward with a swipe, invoke system functions with gestures
  • Fine-grained text traversal control
  • TalkBack support for the above
  • Support for Braille accessibility services  (get BrailleBack from Google Play)
  • Accessibility shortcut:  toggle talkback from anywhere using power menu
  • Screen magnification:  triple tap to zoom in and interact while panning, triple tap and hold to temporarily zoom
Android Accessibility Platform (from slide)
Accessibility Service Framework

  • Software navigation of app controls and text
  • Enables:  talkback, brailleback, test automation
  • Open APIs for developers
Accessibility APIs for Apps
  • Standard controls and layouts “just work”
  • Allow custom traversal of app content
  • Allow custom UI controls
  • Design guide, checklist
  • Evangelism
APIs are “built-in” to allow developers to build apps that work with Google Now.  Not designed specifically for people with disabilities, but for everyone.  He showed how tools can be accessed via “linear access” and “random access” methods via touch and gesture.
Accessibility can be enabled and disabled quickly via “breakout menus,” which looks like a circle with 3 settings arranged around it (“radial menus”), plus there are landmarks in the corners of the device.  Force feedback – that is, shaking the device – can pause TalkBack.  This option is also available via the breakout menus.
“Local menus” are like context menus.  They allow access to types of structured content, sort of like navigating via headers (h1, h2, etc.) in web pages.  Types of content might include blocks of text, lists of controls, list item sections, and so on.
TV Raman believes that the Android platform has only touched on about 20% of its potential.  There’s tons of potential for growth here.
Showed off some neat gestures, which demonstrated how the device “remembers” navigation.  This feature helps eliminate the need to remember how to traverse deeply nested menus after you’ve left that option tree.  No additional developer input is needed to make features like this work, which I must admit is pretty cool.
Provided a demonstration of docs with mobile device, using a Google doc of questions that had been asked earlier in the day.
MOBILE DRIVE AND DOCS (directly from slide)
Accessible versions of mobile drive
  • Drive is accessible with Braille support
  • Native versions of Docs & Sheets launched in the last year
Still rely on platform support for building most accessibility functionality
  • Best experience on Android is with JellyBean
  • Experience is sometimes constrained by the platform APIs
Live demonstration of Google Drive on an Android (Galaxy Nexus)
  • Can explore through both touch and swiping gestures to:  traverse, select, and open items
  • Navigation through lists works the same way
  • Showed how to share doc with others and provide sharing options (read only, edit, etc.)
  • Showed basic editing of docs, with “full control” of native doc
  • Table was listed at the top of the document to demonstrate table editing feature and TalkBack reading level options (which can themselves also be controlled by swiping gestures)
  • Basically, you don’t want to edit massive documents on a mobile device, but it’s definitely possible to make simple- to medium-sized edits.
  • SpreadSheet editor is coming along
NEAR TERM AND LONG TERM (directly from slide)
Near Term
  • Ensure new featuers are accessible and conform to protocol on each platform
  • Integration testing to prevent regressions
Long Term
  • Continue to build out mobile functionality to match Drive & Docs on the web
Braille Device Support (this feature is pretty badass in my opinion)
  • Makes accessible to deaf-blind users
  • Functions as both a screen and a keyboard
  • Accessibility actions can be triggered via Braille keyboard (BrailleBack)
  • Will be available on ChromeOS soon
  • New version coming out tomorrow on Play, lets devs see “on screen” what the Braille output looks like
  • Also has TTY and high-contrast support
CASEY BURKHARDT demonstrated low vision support
  • Settings to enable magnification feature and turned on gesture support
  • Enabled a specific gesture to turn on magnification with a gesture
  • Can temporarily enable these features to scan things quickly
  • Explicitly does NOT magnify the keyboard (becomes a usability nightmare)


  • Are improvements being made to the main googleVoice interface?
  • When will all default Android apps will be talkback accessible?  Gallery and calendaris notoriously badf
  • What’s the name of the feedback list serve you mentioned earlier?

By Paul Schantz

CSUN Director of Web & Technology Services, Student Affairs. husband, father, gamer, part time aviator, fitness enthusiast, Apple fan, and iguana wrangler.

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