App Accessibility Checklist for Low Vision


About a month ago, my friend recommended an application to download on my phone. I wasn’t sure if they had thought about this, but there are many apps, even popular ones, that are inaccessible to people with low vision or photosensitivity. Right as I was about to ask, my friend said “don’t worry, the text can be enlarged to your size and there’s no strobes.” I was happy that not only my friend had checked for these things, but that the app developers had thought ahead of time and made their app accessible to people with low vision and photosensitivity.

Too many times, accessibility is considered a last minute thing to add to an application. With so many people identified as having a disability, app developers should be more aware of how important it is to consider diverse users when developing an application. Here are seven accessibility settings I check for when downloading an application, either on my Android phone or iPad. While this is targeted towards users with a disability, this also helps seniors and adults who simply forgot their reading glasses.

Can text be enlarged?

While some applications support the operating system’s default text settings, there are other apps that use their own fonts. Check that these fonts can be enlarged to a legible size- typically, I use a size 24 font, though bigger is almost always better. If there are different font style options, that is awesome too- people with certain print disabilities benefit immensely from weighted fonts like Comic Sans.

Can screen readers be used?

Many users use a tool like VoiceOver (Apple) or TalkBack (Android) in order to access text. Adding alt text image descriptions is also important so the user isn’t left guessing what was in the picture. If the image is purely decorative, write “null” or “decoration.” And please, have a skip navigation option, so the screen reader isn’t reading through unnecessary information.

Is everything displayed?

When the font is enlarged, make sure that all text, as well as buttons, are displayed on the screen in a logical manner. Some apps have text run off the screen, or do not enlarge buttons, which makes it impossible to use the app.

Is there sufficient contrast?

Is it easy to read the text on the screen? Having options to change the colors of the background or other buttons can be helpful in ensuring that users are able to see an app clearly. Having a night mode with a dark color scheme also can help reduce glare.

Are there strobe or flashing effects?

I have used a couple of applications that had random strobe or flashing light effects, or that used strobe notifications that could not be disabled. I even had a phone for about an hour that was a giant strobing mess. These apps were uninstalled immediately, and the strobing phone was returned as well. While a light at the frequency of a car blinker is fine, do not use strobe or flashing light effects, especially in red/blue colors, and give the user no way to disable them. For more information on who can be harmed by these effects, read this.

Can I use my own keyboard?

Some applications prevent the user from accessing a third party keyboard, or even the speech-to-text option. Allow users to be able to use any keyboard for maximum compatibility.

Do I have to think about using this?

If the user has to remember a complex series of steps to take because of accessibility settings being enabled, then the app isn’t worth using. One of the main design principles is that if the user has to think while using a product, then the designer has failed. Make sure users don’t have to jump through too many hoops.

Accessibility is very important to me, and I am always grateful when developers keep users like me in mind. While there are so many other disability areas to remember, I hope developers will continue to remember those of us with low vision and photosensitivity when creating apps.

Google Chromecast Review

Occasionally, I have trouble focusing my eyes to read text on my phone or tablet. In these cases, zooming in is futile, and I find it easier to focus through the top half of the bifocal in my glasses. Instead of bending my head at weird angles or holding my device up higher, I use a Google Chromecast to project my screen onto the TV- no wires or cables necessary.

The Chromecast is a $35 device that allows the user to connect their computer, tablet, or phone to their TV. The device is plugged into a HDMI port on the TV, and it also uses a power outlet. By using the same wifi hotspot as the other device, the Chromecast can project internet tabs, apps, and more onto a TV. My family has at least three of these devices in the house, and I even brought one to college with me. Here are some of the ways I have used it, both as assistive technology and just as a useful resource with my various devices.

Setting it up

To set up the device, simply plug one end into the wall and the other end into the HDMI port of the TV, which is best described as a rectangle with a smaller rectangle on top. After that, go to the Chromecast set up website or app to finish the process, which includes connecting it to a wifi hotspot and giving it a name.

If you are setting it up at college, you may need to register the MAC address first, as I explained in my post about the Amazon Echo Dot, since chances are you have to use a username and password to log on to the school wifi. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet hotspot. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Chromecast app settings, it can be used on a college campus without any complicated networks to set up. I found that I am able to easily use the device no matter what wifi hotspot my other devices are connected to.

Android phone

With most later versions of Android, 6.0 and up, the user can easily cast their entire phone screen by swiping down on the status bar and selecting cast. I use this late at night when I have trouble focusing my eyes on text messages, or when I am using an app that has small font. This is also useful when I am demonstrating a function on my phone to someone, as it is more practical to look up at a screen than to look over my shoulder.

iPad

Many apps on the iPad support streaming to Chromecast, including Netflix, YouTube, Google Chrome, Google Video, and others. I use Google Chrome the most out of those three apps to broadcast tabs I am working on, watch videos, enlarge files, and more. YouTube has also been very helpful when I have to take notes on something at the same time- the video or app doesn’t have to be open on the iPad in order for it to broadcast. With the Google Video and Netflix apps, I have been able to watch movies with my friends who live in other states and iMessage or talk about the movie at the same time.

Google Chrome

With my desktop and laptop computers, I have been able to mirror tabs open in Google Chrome onto my TV flawlessly. Because some websites are impossible to zoom in on, I often will broadcast them to the TV to read information better. Extensions such as Adblock are still able to be used on the screen. Most recently, I broadcast a PDF file that I opened in Google Chrome to the TV so I could see it better.

Bonus offers

At times, the Chromecast will have special offers available for users. Some offers have included free trials, free movie rentals, and even Google Play credit which can be used to buy apps, movies, books, games, TV shows, etc in the Google Play store.

Overall review

In the two years I have been using it regularly, I have found this device to be incredibly useful and an affordable alternative to a smart TV, and it’s incredibly easy to use- my parents who describe themselves as technology challenged are able to use the device with ease. With all of the bonus offers, the device has paid for itself, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who benefits from a larger screen.

I received no compensation for this review and purchased this item on my own.  This is a completely unbiased review.

How To Choose a New Phone When You Have Photosensitivity

I have been researching getting a new phone for some time.  I thought I had thought of everything, studying all of the technology specifications and comparing over a dozen phones side by side.  Ultimately, I chose the Motorola G5 Plus, which had the newest version of Android and lots of other interesting functions.  I had been a Motorola customer for nearly four years, so it seemed like a great fit.  Unfortunately, not even ten seconds after I turned it on, it started flashing uncontrollably and gave me a migraine- strobe and flashing lights trigger migraines for me.  It wasn’t just the opening screen that strobed either- there were several other ways that this phone was capable of triggering a migraine for me.  After an hour on hold with Motorola customer support, I was told there was nothing I could do to disable these functions and I should just return the phone.  All of the new Motorola phones also have this strobing display, so now I am left to research another phone.  Here are five things I will be looking for in this new phone, things I didn’t even think to look for before.

Turn the phone off and back on again

What does the startup animation look like?  Is it a flash of lightning, or rapidly changing colors?  What about fast moving images?  Any of these can be a trigger for a migraine, seizure, or other medical issue.  I would have someone else who knows your condition check this for you so you aren’t hurt by the display.  After I first saw the flashing display yesterday, I had two of my close friends who are familiar with my condition look at the animation, and they agreed it was very unsafe for someone with photosensitivity.

Strobing notifications

One of my friends has a phone where the flash on their camera creates a strobing effect whenever they receive a call, text, or notification.  If you purchase a phone with this function, make sure it is not enabled by default to start strobing for notifications.  Also, if you have a friend who uses this function, kindly ask that they disable it when you are around, because it can cause you to have a medical issue.

Does the screen flash when you zoom in?

When you double/triple tap the screen to magnify, does the screen do a short strobe animation?  Most animations can be disabled on a phone, but some models may not allow this strobe effect to be disabled.  It’s also worth checking to see if the phone screen strobes for other gestures, or when apps are opened.  Sometimes you can change what animation displays, so you can choose something that isn’t a strobe effect.

Color filters

If your eyes have trouble processing bright lights or colors, check to see if the phone display supports adding a color blindness mode or light filter.  I have a filter on my current phone that filters out very bright lights without affecting the color display.  I also use night mode on my phone when I am dealing with a migraine- this is a red-pigmented filter designed to block out the blue light from the phone display.

 

Does the keyboard flash?

When typing, does the phone keyboard create a strobe or flashing effect?  Luckily, keyboards and other third party apps can easily be replaced- check out my post on how to make Android accessible here.  However, it may not be worth the hassle if there are so many other flashing lights on the phone.

 

It’s rather unfortunate that an increasing number of phone manufacturers and companies have been adding flashing lights to their designs.  With more and more people being diagnosed with migraines, epilepsy, and other photosensitive conditions, it is more important than ever to remember one of the most important rules of web design- don’t create anything that can cause a seizure.  I hope in the future, companies will stop using strobe and flashing lights in their designs, but until then, the search is on for a new phone.  As sad as I am to leave Motorola, I can’t risk triggering a migraine just by using my phone.

Ten Ways to Reduce Eye Strain With Technology

I don’t watch any TV, proudly says a person who spends her entire day on her computer, iPad, phone, and other assistive technology devices. When I first meet someone who doesn’t understand vision loss, they often are confused as to how I can see my devices, shortly followed by how I can use them for such long periods of time. Here are ten ways I help to fight eye fatigue when using my devices. While this is targeted towards people with low vision, anyone who uses computers for a long period of time can benefit from these techniques.

Blue light filter guard for Google Chrome

This extension helps to remove blue light, which can cause fatigue, eye strain, and blurry vision. It puts a warm tint over the page allowing the user to look at the screen for long periods of time. This has never affected my ability to see pictures, as images look very natural against this background.  I use this extension.

Computer glasses

I found myself in the computer lab all day with virtual classes in high school. My low vision specialist recommended computer glasses, which have a special progressive bifocal, for helping to prevent me from bending my head funny as I try to read through my bifocal. I got mine through LensCrafters, and they took about seven business days to receive them. One downfall is that it’s impossible to see when the user looks away from the screen- when there was a fire alarm one day and I got up without changing glasses, I walked into the wall next to the door.

Non prescription tinted glasses

One of my friends likes to use these when using electronics, and it helps them to see with a high contrast display. These have a yellow tint to them and help to reduce eye strain further. I have not tried wearing them over my thick glasses so I’m not sure how they will fit, but I do like the wraparound design. Here are the ones they have.

Anti-glare screen filter

This is a glass filter that hangs on the outside of the computer monitor. This is not helpful for touch screens, however for desktop computers that don’t use touch, it’s a great way to further filter out light and glare, making text easy to see. My mom has this on her home computer and it really helps. We use this model.

Reducing white point on iPad and iPhone

To do this, go to settings, then accessibility, and then display accommodations. It can be found on the bottom part of the menu. Mine is reduced to 50°

Color filter on iPad

This helps to filter out blue light on iPad. It can be enabled in display accommodations and then the color accommodations menu. I have a color intensity about 1/3 down the line and the hue at 100%.

F.lux

This free application is available for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and even Linux. Simply tell it what area you live in and what lighting you have and it does the rest, intelligently blocking out light, especially at night. You can download it at www.justgetflux.com

Eye pillow

Eventually, my eyes do get tired and I like the feeling of compression on them and total darkness. My eye pillow is one of my favorite purchases from Amazon and has a hot and cold side to it depending on what kind of relief I’m looking for. I find leaving this on for twenty minutes is invaluable.  Find it here.

Microsoft Office backgrounds

My friend taught me this when I was in tenth grade. If you find the background behind the document you’re working on to be too bright, you can go into options and change the color of the background to dark gray/black.

Automatic brightness

What is better, a super bright screen or a super dark screen? For me, I prefer to use the automatic brightness settings across my devices to decide for me. Naturally, I prefer slightly darker to avoid triggering my photosensitivity, and I can adjust the automatic settings when needed.
Despite popular belief, you will not go blind by looking at a screen too long or too closely. This was true with the first cathode ray televisions, although with LCD/LED displays, it is no longer true. So use your devices for whatever you need them for, and avoid developing eye strain while doing so!

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Accessibility Settings For Android Phones

Here are settings to enable for Android phones that are running KitKat or higher to help make the devices easier to use. Not all settings are available for all phones, and they may look a little different depending on the phone. All are found in the accessibility menu under system settings.

Magnification gesture

By triple tapping the screen, it can be magnified up to 10x. Users can navigate the screen by dragging two or more fingers across it, and zoom in more by pinching fingers, or zoom out by spreading them apart. You can also triple tap and hold with one finger to get a small magnification window to drag across the screen that will close when you move your finger. This works everywhere but the keyboard and navigation bar.

Large text

Self explanatory. If you need it larger, download an app like Big Font that will increase the system font.   More on making Android accessible with third party apps here.

High contrast text

The system font when displayed is white with a black outline, to make it readable on any background.

Power button exits call

Push the power button to hang up the phone. It’s easier than tapping on the screen to end a call.

Color inversion

Allow for a dark background with light text on all phone displays.  Just turn it off before viewing photos or the camera.

Color correction

Correct the display for users who have deuteranomaly, protanomaly, or tritanomaly.

This may not seem like a lot of features, but the beauty of Android is that there are so many different apps to make the device however you want it to. For more on selecting an Android device, click here.

5 Apps That Help Students With Low Vision In The Classroom

I started using my personal technology in the classroom full-time in 2013 when I started attending a high school that had wifi access available for students. I gave a presentation my senior year about some of these apps to my school district because so many people were impressed how I integrated technology so seamlessly into doing my schoolwork. Here are five of my favorite apps from over the years.

Notability

This app allows for the user to annotate PDFs and Word documents with drawings or text. The user can also type or draw on their own documents or photos. Afterwards, the user can upload the file to a cloud storage website such as Dropbox or email it to someone. My teachers in high school all shared access to a Dropbox folder and then created sub folders that they uploaded work into for me to retrieve. I have used this app in all of my science classes since I discovered it in 2013 and it has made the process of doing labs very easy. Teachers would email me the document for class or upload it to a shared folder, and I would open it with Notability. It is $2 and only available on iOS at this time.

myScript Calculator

I was actually recommended this app by the technology coordinator at my school two days before a state standardized test when we found out that the calculator app that I used at the time wasn’t actually approved by the state testing group. This app allows the user to write out the problem they want solved, and the app will convert the handwriting to text and display the answer. One thing I really like is that the typed font will enlarge to the size of the handwritten font, so if I write 2+2 so it takes up half the screen, the app will display the text as taking up half the screen. The app can recognize even the worst of handwriting and while it doesn’t support graphing, it is a great calculator that cannot access the Internet. It is free and can be downloaded for iOS or Android.

PicsArt

While it has many capabilities, I use this app in a learning environment to apply colored filters to text so that way I can read what I am doing easier, crop images, or enlarge them as needed. It is like a free version of PhotoShop that satisfies many of my creative needs. It is free and available on iOS and Android.

Clarisketch

This app allows users to create short, 30 second tutorials and draw on images as well as record audio. It is great for explaining simple concepts or for explaining things more in-depth. It does not require an account, and each Clarisketch can be accessed using an unique link. It is free and available on Android only.

Amazon Kindle

I get all of my textbooks digitally and have found that Amazon not only has all my textbooks, but also has one of the best eReading apps I have ever used. There are many study sources such as creating flash cards, but my favorite functions include the ability to enlarge text and adjust the brightness of the app. It is available on iOS and Android.

Four Online Services Libraries Have For Low Vision Users (and everybody else!)


I’m used to walking into libraries and sighing because I’m in a giant building of things I can’t see. Most of the large print sections at libraries I’ve been to consist of romance novels, which I show no interest in reading, or books that have larger than average font that I still can’t see. Luckily, there is a growing number of libraries supporting these awesome services that allow a person like me with a print disability to read what my family is reading. All of these are free with your library card at participating libraries.  For more on accessing college libraries, click here.

Zinio Magazines

This allows users to download magazines from a variety of topics and read them free of charge on their devices. I frequently read food magazines, but there are so many different genres that there is something for everyone. Text can be scaled as large as necessary and pictures are high contrast as well.

OneClick Digital

Audiobooks that can be played through an Android, Kindle, or iOS app downloaded from their website, or downloaded from a computer and onto another device using a special file manager that can be found online. I like how everything is sorted by genre and how easy it is to find things.

OverDrive

Check out up to eight books at a time for up to 21 days and read either on an Android, Kindle, or iOS app, or download to your computer and convert the file using the free Adobe Digital Editions software and put it on any ereader you want- just know the title will disappear after you return it. I like the large amount of new releases, but it can get frustrating when there are too many people requesting the book.

Freegal Music

Accessed through freegalmusic.com, users can download three free songs a week from a massive catalog, or stream for up to three hours a day. There are audiobooks available and they are downloaded as MP3 files and can be played wherever MP3s are played. I download them to my iPod.

Because of these websites, I have been able to increase my access to materials that are accessible to me and so many other people.  I am so grateful that libraries are adding items that aren’t just books, they are services that can benefit a large amount of people.  Check today to see if your local library allows access to these services!

 

Make Any Android Smartphone Accessible For $8

Make Any Android Phone Accessible for $8.png

I have been an avid android user since I got my first smartphone almost seven years ago. While I love exploring new apps, there are some things that I just don’t like messing with, and those are the ones that control basic functions on my phone. Without these, I wouldn’t be able to use my phone as efficiently as I do. Here are five apps that I use multiple times a day and that are so simple, I don’t even have to think about using them.

Buzz Launcher

This app replaces the typical home screen layout with icons that are difficult to see, and allows the user to enlarge icons or even switch to a fully gesture based layout with no icons at all. No account is required to use it, and there are no ads. I have uploaded the theme for my home screen here  so users can download it. Another cool function is a built in light filter that filters out blue lights that cause eye strain (read more about reducing eye strain with technology here). I use a gray tint for my phone display and it helps me greatly, without being distracting for other people who may borrow my phone. The entire app is free, and always will be. It is the first thing I download when I get a new phone as I have used this app for four years.  Get it here.

Thumb Dialer by welldonecom

This is a gesture based dialer. To set it up, the user chooses a gesture and assigns a phone number to it. For example, by swiping from left to right on the top of my screen, I can call my family’s landline number. It can support up to twelve phone numbers with the presets, and after the initial set up, it can be used without looking down at the screen. It costs $1.37, but I have been using it for over five years and never had a problem with it.  Get it here.

Big Font by Sam Lu

When the largest font on the system font isn’t big enough, this app can increase the font size by up to 250% for free, and up to 1000% for $3. I set my system font to the largest, high contrast version of the system font (learn how to do that here), and then use this app to increase it by 250%. I have never felt a need to have it larger than that. One downside is that I can’t see the clock in the top status bar on my phone, however that does not bother me because I can’t see it with the smaller font. I have used this app for four years and never had any issues with it.  Get it here,

Mood Messenger by caLea

While the Big Font app makes it possible to use the messaging app that came with my phone, I prefer to use this well designed messaging app. It displays texts on a dark background when night mode is enabled, a setting I recommend enabling whenever possible. The user can also choose custom colors as the message background- I chose teal and orange. Different fonts for the messages are also available- I chose a bold weighted font that I can easily read. This app is free and also integrates well with the built in screen reader.  Get it here.

a.i Type by a.i

This app replaces the standard keyboard on the phone, and does not store the information you type, meaning that the company cannot see your data. The text can be scaled to fill up the entire slot for a letter, and flashing effects can be turned off. Touch tones and vibration can be customized or turned off. Themes and colors for the keyboard can also be customized- I use the around the clock theme which changes depending on the time of day. One function I really like is the custom autocorrect dictionary, where I can type in a series of letters and have it correct to a sentence. Some phrases I have input are “iham” meaning I have a migraine, “icst” meaning I can’t see that, and “dywgf” meaning do you want to get food. The app has a free trial, but requires a $4 purchase to use in full. I have used this app for three years and have never switched keyboards since.  Get it here.

So for less than $10, you can have any Android phone you want and have it be accessible for someone who has low vision or who has difficulty using a standard smartphone.  For more on choosing a smartphone, read this post on choosing a phone with photosensitivity. 

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