Android and iOS have helped revolutionize the world of mobile communication technology. In 2019, it is estimated that 2.7 billion people owned a smartphone. Of those 2.7 billion users, approximately 15% are estimated to live with at least one disability. Since handheld devices and mobile operating systems have begun to replace traditional desktop computers, providers are working continuously to improve the accessibility of their products for users with disabilities. Here we list some of the most user-friendly accessibility features of both these systems and how they are helping people who need to use assistive technologies access the web.
Android accessibility features
Note: Some features require that you enable accessibility shortcuts in Android.
TalkBack: TalkBack uses audio feedback and vibration to help users who have vision impairments interact with their devices. To activate and deactivate TalkBack - press and hold both volume keys for 3 seconds.
Braille Keyboard: TalkBack Braille keyboard supports Unified English Braille, and enables users to enter 6-dot Braille on the screen. To use TalkBack Braille, enable TalkBack and turn off Screen Magnification.
Select to Speak: This feature provides users with spoken feedback when manually selected to be read aloud. To activate this feature, select Accessibility in the Settings menu, and then tap Select to Speak - you may need to download the latest version of Android Accessibility Suite to use this feature.
Display Size: Android allows users to change the default size of the items on the screen. Users have the option to change the font size and display size. To make display changes, open the Setting's App and tap Accessibility, then Font Size or Accessibility, and then Display Size.
Magnification: This feature helps users temporarily magnify or zoom the screen when required. To use the magnification feature, activate magnification and magnification gestures.
Color and Contrast: Android offers alternative views for users with low vision and those who are color blind, such as color correction, color inversion, dark theme, and high-contrast text to adjust colors or contrast. To activate high-contrast text, open the Settings app, select Accessibility, and choose High Contrast text.
Lookout: Lookout is an app by Google that uses the camera and computer vision to help users with vision impairment obtain information related to their surroundings. Install Lookout for Android.
Voice Access: Users can control their Android device using spoken commands with the help of this feature. To enable Voice Access, open the Settings app, select Accessibility, and then enable Voice Access. Activate Voice Access by saying, "Ok, Google."
Switch Access: Switch Access allows users to interact with their devices without using the touchscreen. For example, users with limited mobility or dexterity can assign certain actions to volume buttons or keystrokes input from an external keyboard. To learn more about Switch, external switches, keyboards, and customization of user inputs, visit Google Support's About Switch Access for Android.
Audio and text
Live Caption: When this feature is activated, Google will attempt to provide automatic captioning for content viewed on a mobile device. To activate Live Caption, while viewing media, press the volume button and tap Live Caption.
Live Transcribe: Live Transcribe provides users who are deaf or hard of hearing the ability to turn their phone into a live transcription service. When activated, Live Transcribe can interpret sounds and words in over 70 languages into on-demand transcribed content. For more information, watch Google's Live Transcribe demonstration video.
Sound Notifications: Android's Sound Notifications feature is great for keeping users informed about the sounds in their homes. Sound Notifications allow users to connect sounds in their homes, such as fire alarms and doorbells, to automatic notifications on their screens. Sound Notifications do not require Smart technology to be installed. Activate Sound Notifications in the Settings app.
Real-Time Text: With RTT, users can make use of text during a phone call for more effective communication. To activate RTT, open the Settings app and select Real-time Text.
iOS accessibility features
VoiceOver: VoiceOver describes what is happening on the screen and helps users navigate content from battery level to text blocks. To learn more about VoiceOver for iOS and VoiceOver gestures, visit Apple's VoiceOver practice page.
VoiceOver+Braille: VoiceOver+Braille allows users to connect Bluetooth braille devices for VoiceOver output. Users can also input text via Braille devices with VoiceOver on.
Magnifier: Magnifier operates like a digital magnifying glass to help users increase the size of any physical object using the camera on their iOS device. To access Magnifier, go to Settings, then Accessibility, and toggle Magnifier on.
Speak Screen: With this feature, even with VoiceOver off users can have messages, emails, Safari, and almost any other text clearly read aloud in multiple languages. Activate Speak Screen in the Settings app.
Sound Recognition: This feature uses on-device intelligence to recognize and inform users when a specific sound is detected.
Headphone Accommodations: Users can customize their listening experience while watching a movie, listening to music, or speaking to someone by adjusting sound frequencies according to their specific needs. To modify headphone settings in iOS, open Settings, select Accessibility, tap Audio/Visual, and select Headphone Accommodations. From Headphone Accommodations, users can customize their listening experience.
Live Listen: This assistive audio feature allows users to have clearer conversations in loud places by turning iPad and iPhone into a remote microphone that transmits sound back to Made for iPhone hearing aids.
Made for iPhone Hearing Aids: Made for iPhone hearing aids connect directly into Apple's iOS and provide users the ability to stream audio from their phone, answer phone calls, and communicate with others by using iPad and iPhone microphones to improve sound quality. For more information, visit Apple's Made for iPhone Hearing Aids fact sheet.
Voice Control: This feature lets users navigate their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac using only voice commands and interact with any iOS apps. Voice Control requires iOS 13 or later.
Switch Control: Users can control their iOS device with just a single tap using a range of adaptive switch hardware. Apple's Switch Control allows users to select, tap, or drag items, type, and even freehand draw with Switch hardware installed.
AssistiveTouch: This feature lets users adapt their touchscreen to suit specific physical needs. If tap or pinch or another gesture doesn’t work, users may swap it with a customized gesture.
Touch Accommodations: Users can adjust the response of their screen to touch with this feature on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch.
iOS v. Android accessibility: which is better?
In general, the number of Android users far exceeds the number of iOS users worldwide. However, at least one survey showed that slightly more people with vision or motor limitations preferred iOS to Android. In that study, roughly 18.5% of users reported a preference for iOS over Android (16.5%). However, the right choice is likely the one that fits your needs and budget.