TalkBack 101

audio version (opens in a new tab)

This is the third of my screen reader-themed articles. This week, my focus is on the Android screen reader TalkBack. I discussed TalkBack briefly in my article

Android 101.

As a reminder, TalkBack is part of

Android Accessibility Suite.

In this article, I will provide a description of TalkBack and some features which I value.

As the name indicates, TalkBack verbally speaks the content of screens on an Android smartphone. If you have not used TalkBack before, it may take some getting used to. Here is a

video: “How To Turn on TalkBack, Android’s Screen Reader”              .

The presenter verbally explains how to turn TalkBack on in a phone’s accessibility settings. Although the video states that TalkBack users must learn to use 2 and 3 finger gestures to operate the screen reader, I myself can do most of what I need with one finger. Single-finger navigation is useful for me, since I have limited dexterity in one of my wrists. Two examples of one-finger gestures are local and global context menus.

The global and local context menus enable Talkback users to access various types of information. I will discuss them separately because they serve different purposes. A description of both is available in the Android Accessibility Help article

“Use global and local context menus”.

The article explains what the menus are and the gestures necessary to activate each one. Global context menu can be used anywhere. I prefer to have TalkBack display menus as lists, rather than circles. This is due to the fact I have no vision to see shapes. The global context menu includes options such as “read from top”, “Read from next item”, “Spell last utterance” and “Repeat last utterance”. There are a number of other global context menu options for a user to explore. I find value in the global context menu because it can help me absorb information. If I have difficulty understanding a word spoken by TalkBack, I can use the global context menu to spell the word. Or, if I am reading a long screen of information and don’t want to manually scroll line by line, the “read from top” feature of TalkBack can be useful in that situation. I will now discuss TalkBack usage with the local context menu.

Unlike a global context menu, the local one can vary because it pertains to the item in focus. Local context menus could include navigation options, such as by line, character or word. When I happen across a local context menu while using my phone, it is usually the navigation options referenced above. However, I sometimes come across a local context menu with editing options if I am specifically looking for it. Editing options are used for text editing. In such situations, I find it useful to select “move cursor to start”, “select all” and then “enable text selection mode”. Text selection mode lets me select what words or characters I desire. For this reason, it may help to set navigation in editing situations to character or word, depending on circumstances. This can usually be accomplished if the local context menu includes both editing and navigation options. Whether you tend to use global or local context menus while using TalkBack depends on individual circumstances and needs. I also find TalkBack’s explore by Touch function useful.

Explore by Touch is discussed in the Android Accessibility Help article

“Navigate your device with TalkBack”.

When explore by touch is turned on, TalkBack announces various items as a finger is moved on-screen. I find the feature useful because I can explore the screen in any area, instead of being limited to specific locations. The article also references linear navigation. Similar to relevant local context menu navigation options, linear navigation allows the user to navigate with TalkBack by specific elements. In this case, examples include headings, links, lines, characters and default. The ability to navigate by different elements can be useful, for example, if I want to read something word by word or letter by letter. My brief overview of TalkBack only scratches the surface. To benefit fully from TalkBack, I encourage readers who want to use it to explore, explore, explore!

Question for readers: If you use TalkBack, what features do you find most useful? I will return next week with another article.

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