People find it immensely startling and utterly groundbreaking to learn that blind people use computers – ‘normal’ mainstream Desktops or laptops with a standard physical keyboard with no Braille on the screen or on any keys whatsoever and apparently pretty similar to what the average non-disabled individual is seen using. However, what they refuse to comprehend is the fact that I do not rely on a Nokia 3350 Symbian device, but a ‘normal’ modern Touch Screen Smartphone –Motorola M in my case.
Before we get to the juicier bits of how I touch the Touch Screen and figure my way non-visually through the Android maze, let me brief you about the device itself. Launched in November 2016 by Lenovo-owned Motorola Mobility, the phone comes with a 5.50-inch touchscreen display, the 2.2GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P15 processor, and the pricier variant I opted for is packed with 4 gb RAM and 64 gb internal storage. Bringing the phone to life is a non removable 3050 mAh battery, Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, and the customary 4G dual SIM setup, sensors, 16+8 megapixel rear+front camera combo, etc. With the monotonous formalities of introducing the Moto M done, here’s unravelling the big secret.
It should be clearly understood that there is no Braille, no initial tactile reference point, no nothing that I have different on the hardware side of my pure feather touch Smartphone. We know that Motorola is a standard phone manufacturing brand, and thus the Moto M has no specialities to cater to an assistive technology user as such. With those facts firmly acknowledged, how then, one would ask, is this visually impaired youngster supposed to know where to tap, and what gesture to perform, and what on-screen element lurks beneath his finger?
The solution to this mystery is a simple Google software product – the Talkback screen reader for Android. And what’s more – Talkback is hardly any rocket science or quantum mechanics to understand and to utilize any Android device (whether Smartphone, Smart TV or Smartwatch), because you just need to grasp the concept of double-tapping and using two fingers in certain cases instead of their singular origins, swipe and explore, get those right-angled gestures practised, and off you go!
TalkBack adds spoken, audible, and vibration feedback to your device.
Following is how I would accomplish some basic tasks on my Moto M with Talkback enabled:
- To switch on my device and unlock it, umm, I just switch it on by long pressing the Power button. Since Talkback was enabled during the last session, it starts chirping with excitement the moment the device boots, and then I swipe with two fingers instead of the usual one on the Lock Screen vertically upwards. Yay, Talkback says ‘Device Unlocked’.
- To launch my favourite communications app Whatsapp Messenger, I swipe with two fingers rightwards to move to the next Home Screen or leftwards to move to the previous one, depending on the order of the page which the Whatsapp icon occupies relative to the currently focused Home Screen number which Talkback unfailingly announces. I swipe with one finger leftwards and rightwards or just explore the screen with one finger until I find Whatsapp upon which I double tap anywhere on the screen for the focused element to be clicked and thus for Whatsapp to be launched.
- Upon reading my Whatsapp chats by moving my finger around, I happen to come across some smart alec’s message. It consists of vocabulary so bombastic that I need to change my navigation setting from Default to Characters by swiping downwards with one finger and then begin swiping rightwards to read that incomprehensible message letter by letter.
To sum up, using a Smartphone for a visually impaired person like me is just a few gestures of memorization and practice away, contrary to the hundreds of context-oriented keyboard shortcuts that need to be learnt and logically applied in case of a computer screen reader.
What I hope to accomplish thus perhaps through a trilogy of these Android dedicated postings, is to educate the average reader about the various mechanisms and functionalities present in Google Talkback to facilitate convenient and customizable navigation and access to the Android OS, to prove that news and weather updates, gaming, communication and so much more via the Smartphone is absolutely doable, and that those with sight loss can equally partake in the shift to mobile thanks to conscious attempts by tech giants such as Google and Apple to make their software and systems universally usable.