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12 October 2020

The release of the Google Pixel 5 flagship smartphone recently has showcased Android 11, Google’s latest smartphone operating system. While there are a number of new features, the main one of interest from an accessibility perspective is the significant improvement to its Voice Access feature, allowing users to take greater control of the device by simply speaking to it.

Voice Access is an accessibility feature Google introduced several years ago that allows people to control smartphones with just their voice. Previously, it required you to memorize a few commands which related to choosing corresponding numbers on the screen. Android 11 retains many of these features but can now map buttons to correspond to visual screen elements and has expanded to understand a larger number of comments such as ‘swipe left’, ‘swipe right’ and ‘take me to the home screen’. The refinements mean that the feature is far more intuitive in understanding the actions that need to be done and apps that may need to be controlled.

To enable Voice Access and take advantage of the improvements in Android 11, users may need to download the app from the Google Play Store. The YouTube video below provides a great tutorial on how to set it up and use it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLBXPjrk9ac

Voice Access marks the second major improvement in accessibility by Google in 2020, following on from its release of Action Blocks in May. Action Blocks are a new Android feature that will allow you to pre-write Google Assistant commands and place shortcuts to them on your home screen. They work using a new Action Block app, which lets you give each action a name, type out a spoken command for Google’s voice assistant, and then assign it an image so it’s easily recognizable on your phone’s home screen. The combination of Android 11 and Action Blocks demonstrate an improved focus by Google to address accessibility support issues for people with mobility impairments, cognitive impairments and people who prefer to interact with their devices using speech-to-text functionality.

The Centre For Accessibility Australia is a joint project by Media on Mars, DADAA and Dr Scott Hollier and is funded by the Department of Communities, Disability Services.

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