Android talks and does Braille

Android talks and does Braille
One of the interesting sessions held at Google I/O was the “Enabling Blind and Low-Vision Accessibility on Android” presentation. One area where iOS has excelled has been in the areas of accessibility for disabled people, most notably the blind.

Android has made some enhancements to the platform that will make it an order of magnitude easier for developers to make their applications more user friendly for people with blindness or low-visibility.

The engineers at Google have essentially boiled down the process into five steps for developers to augment their code to allow Android to use its accessibility features which utilize either spoken feedback (TalkBack) or enable connected devices provide a legible description for a blind person to read by using a Braille emulator (BrailleBack). TalkBack is already a part of the Android operating system. BrailleBack is available in the Google Play store, incorporating itself with the accessibility settings.

T.V. Ramam is a research scientist at Google, and he, along with parts of his team, Casey Burkhart and Alan Viverette outlined the accessible functions and demonstrated them while explaining the methods that developers can use to optimize their applications for Android’s accessiblity tools, the details of which involved several, though not an overwhelming number of lines of code.

Following the presentation, we connected with a couple of programmers from Codefactory (www.codefactory.es), based in Barcelona, Spain. Codefactory specializes in applications that “read” the screen of a user's smartphone. In business since 1998, the company has been developing applications for screen readers and screen magnifiers across several platforms.

Xavi Martinez Clemente, and Jose Luis Ametller attended the presentation and see Android actually catching up with the accessibility solutions that Codefactory has been developing for years. However, these enhancements will allow the company to work on new features of their family of applications.

Mobile Accessibility, available in over a dozen languages, enables users to access all the functions through a modified user interface. In the United States, the apps come with a 30-day trial, then a one-time fee of $99 which allows for lifetime updates. Users will soon be getting a feature which enables a privacy screen, essentially blacking out the screen. When you are blind you do not care what the screen looks like and users that pair a headset to their device can operate in complete privacy if they wish.

As to what this means for the Android ecosystem as a whole, these accessibility features mean more than just helping the blind. Steve Jacobs, CEO of Apps 4 Android (www.apps4android.org) based out of Hilliard, Ohio and a subsidiary of IDEAL Group, says these accessibility tools hold the key to bringing technology to what are completely overlooked markets.

“Over 1.5 billion people are illiterate,” according to Mr. Jacobs, “and that presents an opportunity for our ePub reader, IDEAL Group Reader, which would introduce literature and written material while highlighting and reading the words aloud, which provides a great benefit to the reader or listener.”

Apps 4 Android is the world’s largest developer for accessibility applications on the Android platform. Among their premier products are the aforementioned IDEAL Group Reader and a series of math tutorial applications which help students from elementary school all the way through high school. In all, the company has about 7 million application installs across 150 counties.

Mr. Jacobs credits Google with the “miracle” wave to emerging markets and it will assist aging populations as well, noting that there are over half-a-billion people over the age of 65 that will benefit from more accessible technology, “Google provides the tools we need to achieve our mission.”


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