engineering

Using TalkBack (II)

Ataul is a Google Developer Expert for Android focusing on inclusive design for mobile platforms and loves facilitating the production of universally useable apps. Also, he watches a lot of movies.

Did you think I forgot? 😅 Part two will introduce some more gestures as well as some advanced TalkBack usage.

Continuing from our last post from the Using TalkBack series, we'll cover system navigation gestures, TalkBack's global context menu, local context menu as well as customised actions.

(This post assumes TalkBack version 5.2.1 with default gestures - it's possible to modify the gesture-to-action pairings in TalkBack's settings!)

System navigation

The Back action is super useful. Swipe down and to the left (like a reverse L-shape). Multi-part gestures must be completed without taking your finger off the screen: make sure your corner is reasonably sharp since it won't recognise sloppy right-angles.

gif showing back navigation gesture

The Home action is similar but it's up and to the left. Instead of using gestures, partially sighted users might just focus on the soft navigation buttons and activate these explicitly.

Global context menu

The global context menu is a menu that contains context-agnostic actions (hence "global"). On recent versions of TalkBack, it's surfaced as a list dialog, Swipe down and then right (an L-shape) to activate it.

gif showing activation of global context menu

"Pause feedback" might be most useful here for users who are just testing TalkBack and need a way to quickly switch back into a single-touch-to-activate mode. The behaviour of the service is suspended, and can be resumed from the notification shade, but the service itself is still running, and so any apps that check whether TalkBack is enabled will still behave as if it's turned on.

The "dim screen" option can be used by testers who don't want to be tempted into cheating, but its real purpose is to save battery life on devices with AMOLED screens. The easiest way to "undim" the screen is to pull up the global context menu again.

This menu also includes some cool navigation and testing tools alike: "read from top" and "copy last utterance to clipboard" being the two which stand out.

Local context menu

Local context menus are more interesting since the options change based on what you currently have selected. Swipe up and to the right (an r-shape) to activate this menu.

At a basic level, there'll either be no menu or you'll be able to change the navigation granularity of TalkBack - instead of each swipe navigating between elements, it can instead read the next sentence, word or letter ("default" reads the whole element).

gif showing activation of local context menu

If the selected element is a direct or indirect child of a ViewPager, then you'll see "Page navigation", allowing you to navigate to the next and previous pages. In this case, the navigation granularity is hidden behind "Navigation settings".

gif showing page navigation, navigation settings and actions in local context menu

The local context menu is also where you'll find customised actions, under the "Actions" item, if any are available.

gif showing customised actions in local context menu

Another exercise for the reader

Try using your Android device with the "dim screen" option enabled for 15 minutes, let me know how you get on and get in touch if you'd like to learn more!

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