Improving Smartphone Accessibility with Personalizable Static Overlays


The physical keypads that used to dominate our mobile devices provided additional support for non-visual interaction - the keys could be recognized tactually, the interfaces were simpler and consistent. When combined with a screen reader, these devices could be easily operated by blind people. The advent of smartphones, with their rich, feature-filled applications and interfaces, have brought forward additional challenges for blind users. Apps and features are no longer developed by a single entity leading to an overwhelming variety of interfaces. We present an approach that superimposes a virtual overlay to all other interfaces ensuring interface consistency by re-structuring how content is accessed in every screen. To explore the approach, we split the screen, dedicating half to a configurable set of static options mimicking always available physical buttons regardless of context; while the other enables the standard content navigation gestures with the ability to re-order content and apply filters. In a qualitative study with nine visually impaired participants, the virtual overlays were reported as simpler to use, while still providing full-fledged usage of the system and the third party applications, and were seen as effective and useful, particularly for novice users.

Proceedings of the 19th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility