Mike Taylor, Senior Accessibility Analyst and Comms and Training from Digital Accessibility Centre, highlights what hidden features can be found in our digital devices in order to promote accessibility
Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC), is a not for profit organisation which tests digital products such as software applications, websites, native apps etc., to ensure compliance with web standards. They also provide training and bespoke e-learning modules covering digital accessibility.
They employ testing teams comprised of users with various access requirements, such as users who are blind, who have dyslexia, low vision and limited mobility to name a few. DAC’s team of accessibility analysts, trainers, technical support and web developers supplement user findings by carrying out expert compliance audits using skill, experience and a range of tools and provide a comprehensive report to their clients identifying issues and providing solutions to help make digital products more accessible for everyone.
What’s hidden in our devices?
Deep in our phones, computers, TV’s and tablets, is a series of menu items which provide a feature set which makes most items easy to use. If you or someone you know needs specific background colours, font size, audio output, or interacts with their device in a specific way such as using a third-party keyboard, there is a good chance they have additional access requirements. In this instance, the feature set listed under the ‘accessibility’ menu of your device is a good place to start.
What will you find?
You will find a list of options, designed to make using your device easier, and having such tools can only open up a world of possibilities for the end-user. Tools which might seem pretty cool to some people are the same tools that mean the difference between being able to use a device or not for others.
As a totally blind person, I use a screen reader, which causes a device to announce what is on screen, which allows me to use my phone, laptop and TV. Screen readers are just one example of an accessibility feature now available on many devices. When talking to people about accessibility and describing some of the features they will have on their devices, the level of surprise because a person didn’t know what the additional functions did is always interesting.
Some of the key features you are likely to find on a wide range of devices today are:
- Screen reading software.
- Magnification options.
- Font and colour adjustment, and hearing aid compatibility as well as Switch control.
Knowledge is power
You may be reading this article and feeling confident that you have no need for such features as switch access, which enables users with limited mobility or a cognitive difficulty to use their device. You may not feel the need to change the font, colours or magnification of your device screen; however, being aware of these clever tools may help you in the event that a friend or relative, or even a colleague should need them.
Longer life expectancy means that at some point, it’s likely that more people will rely on built-in accessibility features, and will need to utilise the various items I briefly mentioned above.
The Disability Living Foundation key facts information page indicates that:
- In 2016, there were an estimated 308 people of a pensionable age for every 1,000 people of a working age. By 2037, this is projected to increase to 365 people 
- There are now 11.8 million people aged 65 or over in the UK. The number of people aged 65+ is projected to rise by over 40 per cent (40.77%) in the next 17 years to over 16 million. By 2033 the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to more than double again to reach 3.2 million, and to account for 5 per cent of the total population 
- 1.6 million people are aged 85 or over. The number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to more than double in the next 23 years to over 3.4 million.  Taken from The Disability Living Foundation Key Facts page: https://www.dlf.org.uk/content/key-facts
Some tips about using your device with built in accessibility features
Once an accessibility feature is set up for use, its generally a case of set and forget. The only way this might change is by additional customisation from the user of the device, or having a handset or software update. It is possible to set up short cuts to access various accessibility features, so it may be worth doing some research, asking a friend or relative, or the company you are buying the device from about which accessibility options are available.
Many manufacturers of mobile, tablet, or computers offer cloud storage facilities, it’s worth remembering that it’s not just documents and photos which can be stored here, some accessibility settings can also be saved. If you are updating your device handset for example, it’s a good idea to back up to the cloud before erasing your content, and when going through the set-up of your new device, you can turn on accessibility features and restore your previous content, which will include your settings.
What about voice assistants like Siri or Google?
The 2 main manufacturers of smartphones include voice assistants on all their devices. Apple and Android have made life easier by allowing users to implement Siri and Google voice respectively, and windows also contains Cortana. There is no doubt a discussion to be had about weather voice assistants fall under the category of accessibility features, however, I would suggest this depends on the person using them, as everyone will no doubt have different reasons for using them; and what is convenient for one individual, is a game-changer for someone else.
My personal use of Siri for example is purely to enable me to do things quickly, like calling someone or setting a timer. Siri is great, but I am unable to use social media, remove and install apps, and customise the layout of my home screen using Siri; So again the view is subjective.
Using the various features available, it is not only possible to access the device settings, customise your screen, and access social media and messaging functions, as the increased technology now enables users to get online. No matter if using apps, or websites, content can now be viewed as long as the material is coded to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standard. If you are new to the term WCAG, it’s a set of guidelines which all content authors and web developers should adhere to, in order to allow as many people to get online as possible.
The future of built-in accessibility features
While it’s difficult to predict future developments relating to technology, it’s clear to me that we are already witnessing a shift in how users access and use the technology on their devices. The increase in such features mean that users have more choice when purchasing a computer, mobile or TV, which can only be a good thing moving forward.