Yesterday was a first. I walked into a retail store and walked out with a piece of modern technology that was blind friendly out of the box. It is a Samsung Epic 4G, otherwise known as the Galaxy S. The phone runs Android. Yes, the iPhone was first, but for various reasons both personal and practical I didn’t buy an iPhone.
I do need to qualify my claim. It was necessary for me to ask the salesperson to activate Talkback for me, which involved offering up my Google account credentials. After that, I was off and running. Android definitely has some accessibility issues, but it is useable. Add in Mobile Accessibility from Code Factory and you have a device that is easily capable of doing the things you expect your smart phone to be able to do. I should state for the record that you can manage the phone without the $97 app, but it will definitely improve your experience if you can afford it. Here’s a link that will help.
A couple of up-front tips will help the new Android user who is blind. Most importantly, you need a phone with some kind of physical navigation aid. A touch pad would do, though I imagine that would be difficult to use precisely. Physical buttons, whether on the body of the phone or as part of a slide-out keyboard, would be better. The problem is that Android does not provide a way for screen readers to implement alternative touch navigation to applications that are not specifically designed for it. The applications within Mobile Accessibility do allow for touch only navigation. Once you have it talking, another thing you will need to know is that the controls in apps are accessed by moving directionally to where they are located on the screen. In other words, moving just up and down may not bring you to all of the available controls. Also be aware that the application may not present everything in a grid pattern. It will take some trial and error to figure out how to navigate to some controls, and then you can only hope they are labeled. Android leaves it up to developers to design their apps properly. There are a few accessible applications out there. A growing collection of accessibility reviews can be found at Android Access, a site run by A T Guys, which markets Mobile Accessibility in the U.S. Their vendor site appears to be under a hack attack at the time of this writing so I won’t link to it.
My conclusion is this. Accessibility is not perfect but we have better options now than ever before. I am delighted to have walked out of a retail establishment actually using the device they sold me. The future looks bright. I’m expecting future developments to make things even better, and I’m crying no tears over the loss of my ever-crashing Windows Mobile phone.