Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Accessible GMail On Android ---- Eyes-Free Email On The Go!

Accessible GMail On Android — Eyes-Free Email On The Go

1 Accessible GMail On Android — Eyes-Free Email On The Go

I've been using Android as my primary smart phone since late 2008, and the level of email access I've had on Android in the past has always been a source of frustration. About a year ago, I first started accessing my email on Android with K9-Mail — that helped me bridge some of the accessibility gaps on the platform.

Over the last few months, our friends over in GMail Mobile have been adding accessibility support to the GMail client on Android. What is truly exciting is that this support is being added to existing releases of Android including Froyo (Android 2.2) and GingerBread (Android 2.3). This means that GMail on Android is now accessible on existing devices — get the update from Market and give it a spin.

1.1 Typical Usage Pattern

Here is my typical usage pattern when accessing my corporate email at Google. Note that the volume of email I receive on this account is extremely high, and includes many mailing lists that I typically do not read while on a mobile device. To limit how much email I download to the mobile device, and to ensure that I attend to the most pressing email messages while on the go I do the following:

  • I have defined a GMail filter that assigns label to-mobile to messages I want to access when on the go.
  • Typically, this includes email addressed directly to me, and other priority items.
  • I launch GMail to open to this label.
  • I quickly skim through the list of displayed messages to here the subject and a quick overview of the message.
  • If I decide to read the complete message, I select that message via the trackball on my Nexus One to hear the message in its entirety.
  • And finding an email thread I am looking for is just one click away — press the search button, and use up/down to navigate your search history.

See our help center documentation for additional details.

Author: T.V Raman <>

Date: 2011-08-10 Wed

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Leveraging Android Access From Google IO 2011

You can watch our Google IO 2011 on Levarging Android Access APIs. The main take-aways from the talk:

  • Android Access is easy --- the framework does most of the heavy-lifting.
  • Implementing Android Access does not mean you take a performance hit.
  • Accessibility is really about expanding the reach of your application.

Implementing accessibility within your application and thereby ensuring that it is usable in a wide variety of end-user scenarios will benefit your application --- both in terms of the number of users you gain, as well as how often your users use your application.

Monday, March 21, 2011

TalkBack Refreshed: Accessible On-Screen Keyboard And More ...

Android Access: TalkBack Refreshed

1 Android Access: TalkBack Refreshed

The latest enhancements to TalkBack now brings Android Accessibility to devices without a physical keyboard. Many of these enhancements also improve the overall TalkBack experience on all devices.

1.1 Highlights

  • New TalkBack Keyboard.
  • On-screen talking keyboard enables text entry via the touch screen.
  • Text review provides spoken feedback when moving the cursor by character, word, sentence, or paragraph.
  • Virtual D-Pad for navigating the Android user interface.
  • Global TalkBack commands enable one-click access to oft-used commands.

1.2 TalkBack Keyboard

The TalkBack Keyboard is an Accessible Input Method (Accessible IME) that when activated enables you to enter and review text via the touch screen. To use this feature, you need to first activate the TalkBack keyboard via the Language and Keyboard option in the Settings menu. Next, customize the TalkBack Keyboard to taste via the TalkBack Keyboard Settings option --- here, you can customize additional features including auditory feedback as you type. Finally, open your favorite editing application, long-press on an edit field, and select TalkBack keyboard as your default IME. Note that you need do this only once; once the TalkBack keyboard has been made the default, it persists across reboots.

1.3 Entering Text On The Touch Screen

TalkBack keyboard is an on-screen keyboard that supports touch exploration along with synchronized spoken and auditory feedback. This means you can now enter text when using devices that don't sport a physical keyboard.

But wait, there's more here than meets the finger at first touch. Once you have activated the TalkBack Keyboard, you can switch the keyboard among three states by long-pressing the volume up/down buttons:

The TalkBack keyboard is not displayed.
You get access to an on-screen virtual D-Pad, along with Back, Home, Search, and Menu buttons.
An on-screen qwerty keyboard.

My preferred means of using the keyboard is to turn on auditory feedback from within TalkBack Keyboard Settings, as well as having SoundBack active. In this mode, you hear keys as you explore the keyboard along with an auditory icon; picking up your finger types the last key you explored. Typing produces a distinctive key-click.

The on-screen keyboard occupies the bottom 1/3 of your screen. While entering text, explore and find the top row, then move above it to hear what you have typed so far.

1.4 Reviewing Text By Character, Word, Sentence Or Paragraph

You can now navigate and review text by character, word, sentence or paragraph. Use a two-finger tap to move forward through these navigation levels; a two-finger double tap moves in the reverse direction. Once you have selected your preferred mode of navigation, you can use Up/Down on the physical track-ball/D-Pad, or alternatively, flick up or down on the virtual D-Pad to move forward or backward through the text being reviewed.

Note that text review works when the TalkBack keyboard is in either/navigating/ or typing mode; personally, I find it less error-prone on keyboard-less devices to first switch to navigating mode when reviewing text, since it is easy to inadvertently enter spurious text otherwise.

1.5 Using The On-Screen Virtual D-Pad

Placing the TalkBack keyboard in navigating mode provides an on-screen virtual D-Pad --- this is especially useful on devices that do not have a physical D-Pad or track-ball on the front of the device. When active, the virtual D-Pad occupies the bottom one-third of the screen, and fast-flicks in that area has the same effect as moving with a D-Pad or track-ball. Tapping anywhere within the virtual D-Pad is the same as clicking with the track-ball.

The corners of the virtual D-Pad also provides Back, Home, Search and Menu buttons --- these are especially useful on devices that lack explicit physical or capacitive buttons for these common Android actions. You can explore the virtual D-pad by moving your finger around the D-Pad area; crossing the top-edge of this area provides haptic and auditory feedback that can be used as an orientation aid in finding the virtual buttons on the corners.

1.6 Global Commands

In addition, selecting the TalkBack Keyboard as your default input method enables a set of global commands that can be accessed from your physical keyboard --- eventually, we will make these available via the soft keyboard as well. Here are a list of the current commands:

BatterySpeaks the current battery levelmenu + B
TimeSpeaks the current date and timemenu + T
ConnectivitySpeaks the connectivity state of each connection: WiFi, 3G, etcmenu + O
RepeatRepeats the last TalkBack utterancemenu + R
SpellSpells the last TalkBack utterancemenu + S

These shortcuts are listed in the Accessibility Preferences application where they can be edited. You can choose between menu and search for the modifier, and any letter on the keyboard for the letter.

1.7 Summary

All of these features work on Android 2.2 and above. In addition, TalkBack makes WebView accessible in Honeycomb --- look for a separate announcement about accessibility enhancements that are exclusive to the Honeycomb release in the coming weeks.

Author: T.V Raman

Date: 2011-03-16 Wed

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eyes-Free Shell Refreshed

We just refreshed Eyes-Free Shell on Android Market with a long-overdue set of improvements that have been waiting to launch. Here is a brief summary of user-visible changes:

User Customizable Home Screen

You can now add additional pages of short-cuts to the home screen. You can flip through these pages of short-cuts by tapping the left or right edge of the screen. Pressing the menu key within a page of shortcuts allows you to customize the short-cuts on that page; it also provides controls for inserting new short-cut pages.

One-Click Uninstall

The default way of managing applications in Android requires many clicks through nested menus --- this is especially true when uninstalling applications. The Eyes-Free Shell now lets you uninstall applications by pressing menu while in the applications list .


Spanish and Chinese strings for Eyes-Free Shell.

And many more underlying changes too numerous to fit in this margin. Speak, Listen, And Enjoy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Intersection Explorer --- Now Intersections Sound Even Better

We just updated Intersection Explorer on Android Market. This version improves on the initial launch by providing more intuitive descriptions for intersections, I'll include some examples below:


Minor Street ends in Main Street to form a T-Intersection Depending on where you explore from, you hear:

  • Currently at Minor Street ends in Main Street
  • Currently at right on to Minor Street from Main Street.
  • Currently at left on to Minor Street from Main Street.

Given the 4-way intersection of Castro Street and El Camino, you hear one of the following depending on the direction you're exploring:

  • Currently at Castro Street crosses El Camino
  • Currently at El Camino crosses Castro Street.

And a lot more than will fit this margin --- explore, share and enjoy!