Switch Access now available in Android

After waiting a couple of weeks for the elusive Android 5.0 Lollipop update for my 2013 Nexus tablet, I  decided to do things the hard way using Google’s instructions for loading a factory image. If you know how to open a Terminal window and issue a few commands, you should not find it too difficult to load the factory image, though I did run into a few roadblocks that I was able to address with quick Google searches. Since I am on a Mac, I had to modify some of the commands a bit, but that was not too hard to do and after a couple of tries I was able to get the 5.0 image loaded on my device.

According to this article and video on Android Central, most of the accessibility features for Lollipop (Android 5.0) have been carried over from 4.4 KitKat. However, the article glosses over a significant addition to Android accessibility: Switch Access. Switch Access is not intended for those with visual impairments, as stated in the Android Central article. Rather, it allows people with physical and/or cognitive limitations to use a touch screen device with assistance from an adaptive switch. Google’s own description does a much better job of explaining how Switch Access works:

Switch access enables you to interact with your Android device using one or more switches that work like keyboard keys. Switch access can be helpful for users with mobility limitations that prevent them from interacting directly with the Android device.

I had a chance to try out the new Switch Access with one of my favorite switch interfaces, the Blue 2 from Ablenet (which by the way has a great guide on how to set up Switch Access in PDF format). While Switch Access is nowhere near as robust as Switch Control on iOS devices, kudos to Google for taking an important step that will ensure even more people can enjoy the use of Android phones and tablets. The fact that two of the major mobile platforms now have switch access as an option is a big step forward for ensuring accessibility for all users.

Switch Access in Android 5.0 only has  few options for configuration in its current incarnation. For example, you are not able to change the appearance of the scanning cursor, which is a very faint green outline around the currently selected item. You can’t  increase the size of the cursor either, and I found it to be difficult to see, especially when it appeared against certain backgrounds. It would be nice if there were a large cursor option (along with the ability to change the color for those who can’t perceive green that well) but I’m sure these options will be added over time. You also have few timing options. You can only adjust the speed at which the cursor moves when you are in the auto-scanning mode, but options such as hold duration, or pause on first item, which could be helpful to certain users, are missing. Again, I see this version of Switch Access as a first step in the right direction and I’m sure these options will be added over time.

Switch Access in Android 5.0 Lollipop can be used in two different ways: you can use it with a single switch by turning on the auto-scanning option, or you can add multiple switches and assign different actions to each of the switch buttons. With single switch use and auto-scanning, pressing the switch will start the scan and pressing it a second time will make a selection. With multiple switches, you can assign different actions to each switch, such as “next” to move the cursor when you press one switch and “click” to make a selection when you press the other. With additional switches, you can assign actions such as scrolling forward or backward, going to the home screen, opening notifications, settings and going to recent apps.  While switch access is running you can still interact with the touch screen in the same way you would if switch access were not turned on. I could see that being useful when you need to work with someone who is not familiar with switch access and how it works.

I created this brief video to demonstrate how switch access is configured and how it works in Android 5.0 Lollipop. For mirroring I am using the Mirror beta app, which is sending a stream I can display and record on my Mac with Reflector and Screenflow. I wish you could remove the watermark (I’m even willing to pay for this free app so that the watermark doesn’t get in the way) but I really like that you can show your taps and touches with this app. It would be really nice if you could do this on iOS  devices.

 

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