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Google’s ‘Voice Access’ App Hits Open Beta

April 11, 2016 - Written By Daniel Fuller

Google notes in a blog entry about Android N’s accessibility features that roughly 20 percent of the population will end up experiencing some sort of physical disability, eventually. Whether it’s paralysis, vision loss, hearing loss or a number of other disabilities, any kind of disability can make it more difficult than normal to interact with technology, especially smartphones. Normally, smartphones demand full hand function and good eyesight for the most efficient possible use. While Android and iOS, as well as many manufacturer skins, feature some accessibility tweaks to help disable users, those may not be enough on their own. Many users who are mostly or completely blind, for example, use apps in the Eyes-Free Project to navigate their phones, or make extensive use of voice assistants. With Android N, Google is looking to add to the existing system-level stable of accessibility features and integrate those sorts of functions more deeply, making them more capable and easier to use.

One of the headlining features of the accessibility suite is called Accessibility Scanner. Already available to developers, this feature scans apps to help pinpoint spots that could be more disability-friendly, and suggest how to fix up those spots.  For impaired users perhaps the most important focal point of Android N’s new accessibility tweaks will be the enhanced voice command system that’s also available and currently in beta, known as “Voice Access“. Seen in an early form last year, this system allows more intricate navigation and manipulation of the device by voice than Google Now, catering to visually impaired and movement impaired users. Natural commands such as opening apps by name or scrolling a page are on offer here. Separate from Android N, Google is giving Google Docs the ability to let users create, edit and format documents by voice, making life easier for the same subset of users that would benefit from “Voice Access”, as well as those working with large documents.

All of the changes are mostly finished, meaning that any that aren’t already in the mix should be making their way into Android N preview builds fairly soon, culminating in their completed state included in the final release. Some of the improvements may come to fruition sooner, such as the voice-based document editing or the Voice Access beta, which are already available. For those that may need he assistance of the application, Voice Access is easy enough to set up after enabling it and even has the ability to walk users through a tutorial to learn how to use it, including things like the most commonly used voice commands. Naturally, Voice Access is sure to have a little bit of a learning curve which is why Google has integrated the tutorial for users, making this particular feature something that is strongly recommended to interact with instead of jumping right in.

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