Accessible Windows, Lollipops and Apples

By Greg Courneya

accessibility logos for Windows, Android, and iOS

We are half way through 2015, and schools boards across North America are entrenched with the lightest, fastest, long-lasting battery powered super computers the world has ever seen: tablets. With 1:1 ratios, class sets, carts, BYOD (“bring your own device”), and even that coveted single school tablet being passed around, schools are challenged with the updating, maintenance, cleaning, charging, and overall understanding of how to use these devices in the most efficient and effective manner for the students involved.

With so many questions emerging (about settings, gestures or other “how do I/can we…” questions) from our colleagues, IT contacts and students, you would think that there would be more rumblings about the set of features that are frequently untouched and yet irreplaceable for some users: the Accessibility Menu. For quite a while, it was almost daily that I would get a request to share my favorite app for a certain exceptionality. It was not uncommon that I would be asked for my “top 5 autism apps,” “my top 5 blind low vision apps,” or something like “what is your favorite app for text to speech” etc. I started calling the various app stores the “Last Resort Store” a few years back in an effort to get staff to consciously investigate the device from the inside out, before going to Google or an app store.

screen shot of accessibility menus for iOS, Windows, and Android

iOS 8.3, Windows 8.1 and Android 5.2 Accessibility Menus. Don’t let size fool you however, more does not necessarily mean better.

Tablet Accessibility

It could very easily be argued that more research and development money and thought goes into an Apple, Android or Windows tablet for the 1% of the market who requires a feature on the accessibility menu, than for the 99% of users who do not need it or know it exists. The marketing and commercialization of the devices does not tailor specifically to users of all abilities. One look at Accessibility Menus on the three leading brands of mobile operating systems though, reveals the incredible resources available to every user, out of the box, and the best part, they are all free.

The term assistive technology is no longer only meaning add-ons to a standard computer or laptop. Although some set-ups may still require specialized technology, for many, it is no longer a $10,000 special order from a specialty company, and there are no discs to install and, for the most part, no software to download. And even for those still requiring 3rd party devices and software, the built-in accessibility still makes the overall set-up more accessible, less costly, or easier to set-up. The market has shifted and continues to shift in incredible ways every day. Accessibility features are not an afterthought or a 3rd party venture anymore. We are starting to see them everywhere – built in and, best of all, FREE.

Before you Google for an app, try Googling “iOS, Android or Windows Accessibility.” Each company has a dedicated website to help users and support staff understand the key features built into the device. The accessibility websites assist people in truly taking advantage of the softwares’ incredible power to engage personally and communicate with the world.

screen shot of accessibility websites for Android, iOS, and Windows

A “Google” search worth doing is finding the respective mobile giants “Accessibility Website” for tutorials, tips and tricks

Accessibility Features Overview

In an effort to promote the key features of all three operating systems, I created a chart that outlines the 12 most critical accessibility features in my opinion. Paired with each features is a basic summary of the pros and cons of each one. As you will see, there are some amazing features embedded into all three platforms. There are Windows features I would love to see in iOS, Android features that would make both competing platforms more accessible and undoubtedly, features in iOS that should be completely universal on all devices.

Screen Reader                                                                                                                          speaker logo

Accessibility Feature Talk Back (Android Lollipop 5.1) Narrator (Windows 8.1) VoiceOver (iOS 8.2)
Voices No voice options, only volume changes 3 Voices (male and female) 5 Dialects/Voices
Tutorial Launches automatically, excellent walk through No built-in walk through Built-in but does not launch automatically
Gestures 11 built in gestures with 8 possible options for each Ultimate keyboard driven screen reader (70+ options for commands) 26 built-in touch gestures but not customizable
Menus Local and global context menus, not customizable Nothing similar to Android + iOS Rotor features intuitive menus and is customizable with 29 settings

magnifying glassScreen Magnification

Accessibility Feature Magnification Gestures (Android Lollipop 5.1) Magnifier (Windows 8.1) Zoom (iOS 8.2)
Gestures Single finger, triple tap No touch shortcuts Three finger double tap OR Zoom Controller single finger
Zoom Adjustment Can zoom in and out, two finger pinch with zoom enabled Incremental 25%-100%, poor touch integration Can zoom in and out (three finger drag OR Zoom Controller single finger slider
Maximum Zoom Not disclosed 1600% 15X
Special Features Triple tap and hold (spotlight zoom with drag) Lens, Docked and Full Screen views Full screen and Window Zoom and Zoom Controller
Typing Can follow typing Can follow typing Can follow typing

a white, black and yellow letter A of different sizes on a blue background Text Accommodation

Accessibility Feature Large Text (Android Lollipop 5.1) Display Options (Windows 8.1) Larger Text (iOS 8.2)
Adjustments On/off Size 6 – 24 Size slider
Customization High Contrast Text (Beta) Bold, individual item changes (i.e. titles vs menu headers) Larger accessibility sizes access, bold
Integration Across device apps and Menu Fairly solid through the desktop mode of windows 8.1; nothing on tile side of device Across device apps and Menu

speaker and the letter A written in three different sizes Text to Speech

Accessibility Feature Text-to-speech Output (Android Lollipop 5.1) Text-to-Speech (Windows 8.1) Speech (iOS 8.2)
Gesture Menu item None Press and hold text
Speed Control 8 settings Slider (Slow-Fast) Slider (Turtle-Rabbit with sample)
Voices Controlled by language 3 voices (male and female) 1 English female voice
Customization Languages Languages Highlight content, speak auto text
Notes: n/a Controlled by Narrator Speak screen feature simplifies text-to-speech process on the fly

drawing of sun made of different colours - black, blue, yellow Colour Accommodations

Accessibility Feature Color Inversion/Correction (Android Lollipop 5.1) High-contrast (Windows 8.1) Invert Colors/ Greyscale (iOS 8.2)
Gesture Menu item Menu item Menu item
Color Inversion Yes, 1 Theme Yes, 4 high-contrast Themes Yes, 1 theme
Correction 3 Options: Deuteran, Protan, Tritan No Grayscale
Notes: Listed as potentially affecting tablet performance Does work across tile side of Windows 8.1 Reduce transparency, darken colours, reduce white point

speaker image and microphone image Speech

Accessibility Feature Voice Input (Android Lollipop 5.1) Speech Recognition (Windows 8.1) Speech (iOS 8.2)
Gesture Screen icon, “Ok Google” Screen icon, “Start listening” Screen icon, Siri, “Hey Siri”
Offline Capable Yes Yes No
Keyboard Integration Yes, pause feature Yes, notepad Yes, all apps
Device Control Yes Yes Yes, excellent integration

picture of a switch Switch Access

Accessibility Feature Switch Access (Android Lollipop 5.1) Requires 3rd Party interface (Windows 8.1) Switch Control (iOS 8.2)
Gesture Plug and play n/a Bluetooth, screen or camera
Auto Scan Yes n/a Yes
Customizable Keys 11 programmable presets n/a Unlimited
Time Delay Control Yes n/a Yes
Notes: n/a n/a More custom switch options than any other feature on the device

drawing of hands gesturing on a surface: touching, moving back and forth, and pinching with two fingers Gesture Customization

Accessibility Feature Touch and Hold Delay (Android Lollipop 5.1) Touch (Windows 8.1) Assistive Touch (iOS 8.2)
Purpose Users with limited dexterity may need the device to adjust its sensitivity to touch
Gestures Double tap, press and hold 2,3,4 and 5 finger custom gesture options
Customizable Features For each setting the speed and the duration of the touch can be set by the user Create your own gesture for use in the Assistive Touch Menu
Notes: Features a built in visual test to help determine preference Works seamlessly with switch access
Keyboard Windows has a long history of hundreds of keyboard shortcuts to control the interface

drawing of an ear with sound wave lines Hearing Accommodation

Accessibility Feature N/A (Android Lollipop 5.1) N/A (Windows 8.1) Hearing (iOS 8.2)
Hearing Aids n/a n/a Certain hearing aid brands now come “Made for iPad”
Mono Audio n/a n/a L and R control menu Control

close captioning logo, play button, audio description logo Media Accommodations

Accessibility Feature Captions (Android Lollipop 5.1) Text Captions (Windows 8.1) Captions (iOS 8.2)
Languages Dozens Default Device default
Text Size 5 text size options n/a Large text, classic + custom
Caption Style 6 contrast themes n/a Totally customizable
Notes: Built in preview is nice n/a Built in preview is nice
Video Descriptions n/a n/a When available

logos for iOS, Android, Windows and the word shortcut Accessibility Shortcut

Accessibility Feature Accessibility Shortcut (Android Lollipop 5.1) Launching Common Tools (Windows 8.1) Accessibility Shortcut (iOS 8.2)
Gesture 2 step process: Press and hold power until sound is made, THEN press and hold 2 fingers until audio confirms short on; this only enables “TalkBack” and gesture does not work to turn accessibility feature off Press “Windows” and Volume Up button can enable/disable ONE of the following:

  • Magnifier,
  • Narrator,
  • Java Access Bridge
  • On-Screen Keyboard
Triple click Home Button can enable/disable ANY of the following:

  • VoiceOver
  • Invert Colors
  • Grayscale
  • Zoom
  • Switch Control
  • Assistive Touch


refreshable braille display Refreshable Braille Display Support

Accessibility Feature BrailleBack – *Not Included* (Android Lollipop 5.1) No Out of the Box Braille Display Support (Windows 8.1) VoiceOver (iOS 8.2)
Device Support Supports 11 companies with refreshable braille displays Dependent on compatible screen reader Supports 17 companies with refreshable braille displays
Code Supports Computer 8 Dot and Literary (Grade 1 and 2); supports 36 Languages/Codes No mention of Unified English Braille; includes tutorial in Developer Menu Supports Computer 8 Dot and Literary (Grade 1 and 2 AND UEB); supports 32 Languages
Notes: No mention of Unified English Braille; includes Tutorial in Developer Menu Supports Nemeth Code and several other included customizable settings

What I discovered in my research was not that one company was better than another or that one tablet was superior, but rather that the state of accessibility is very bitter-sweet. However, I suppose the term, “sweet-bitter” is more appropriate, as the current state of mobile accessibility comes with far more pros than cons. The take away on the bitter end for me was that what I once saw as an unselfish and humbling dedication to accessibility for all users by the three competing companies appeared more to be that these features were emerging as just as much of a business decision as any other. The idea that developing accessibility as a proprietary feature of their respective operating systems contradicts the basic goal of accessibility features. When companies patent gestures, code and interface options that directly impact a user’s ability to access the device, they build yet another barrier to access across the market.

At what point will accessibility reach its truest form of access with a standard set of features across all devices, regardless of price point, size and operating system?

In the evolution of accessibility, an endorsement of features should be universal across all platforms. I would like to see at least a small set of features coded and available to every user regardless of brand or price point. I understand the business model and encourage the companies to continue to craft and design their products to compete with each other on a number of levels. In some cases, even competing on some extremely unique accessibility options could further the way users interact with their devices. However, I challenge them to unite with others and remove barriers to access for niche pockets of the market. So many individuals’ lives can literally be transformed with the aid of a mobile, accessible device without the fear of cost difference, compatibility, and re-learning a system of features for every new task. Imagine picking up a tablet and having a universal accessibility shortcut to a screen reader, native accessibility gestures across all devices or even something as simple as text size and contrast options universally embedded.

Please use the charts above to begin, refine or advance upon your journey in mobile accessibility as a means to choose the right tool for the student. If you have little choice with regards to what tools your students have access too, I hope this chart can serve as either a point of conversation with different departments or as a BYOD starting point if students are coming to school with their own devices


Geoff Courneya has been working in Special Education with Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board for the duration of his teaching career, with a focus of integrating mobile technology into the hands of students of all abilities. He has participated in and co-led several ministry projects looking at iDevices within the lives of students with developmental disabilities. More recently he has been coordinating the services in his school board for students who are blind or have low vision and been able to expand his knowledge and implementation of technology to an even broader audience. Geoff specializes in classroom and technology accommodations for students of all abilities and working with staff to create conditions for learning that promote individual student success. Geoff is currently the Coordinator of the Blind Low Vision program and can be contacted at or you can follow his blog at


Greg Courneya's business card

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Published July 2015