Phone accessibility features

Most smartphones come with a range of accessibility features. Features vary depending on the make and model of your phone. Manufacturers have designed them to help with specific tasks, but they may not be right for you.

By shopping around, you might find different options that work better. Some phone stores may be able to guide you through accessibility features for different phones.

There's no right or wrong way of using a phone, so try to adapt it to your needs. For example, there are phone cases to help you unlock the phone if you cannot access the home button.

Common accessibility features

If you use a smartphone every day, it's likely that you spent time researching to find the right one for your needs. But information about using accessibility features can be confusing and may already be out of date by the time you read it.

Some features are similar on Android, iPhone and Windows. Others may have different names and look different.

Here are some common accessibility features to look for:

Control the phone with your voice (voice activation)

You can control most smartphones with your voice. This can help with tasks like:

  • calling someone by speaking their name
  • writing texts and emails
  • recording notes and reminders
  • searching the internet
  • opening applications and navigating menus

Warning

Check your messages for autocorrect

Check your messages before you send to make sure that words have not been changed with autocorrect.

Have the phone read the screen to you (screen reader)

As well as talking to your phone, you can set the phone to talk to you. Screen readers sound human but can take some time getting used to. Depending on the operating system, you may be able to adjust the speed and pitch it uses to read the screen.

Screen readers can be useful for:

  • reading messages and emails
  • browsing the internet
  • knowing if your screen is on or off
  • describing what's on your screen

Be careful. You may not want emails or messages containing sensitive information read aloud in public.

Adjust text and background

Adjust the text on your smartphone to make reading easier, including:

  • making the text size larger
  • changing how the font looks
  • changing the text and background colour

To help with contrast, you can also adjust the background colour of your screen or use dark mode.

Magnify your screen or zoom in and out

You can pinch the screen on most smartphones to zoom in and out. If this is difficult, there are usually alternative settings. For example, you can magnify the screen by tapping it 3 times or by holding a button on some Android phones.

Turn on subtitles

Turn on subtitles on your smartphone to make videos easier to watch. This usually works across all apps on your phone, including video streaming and social media apps.

Set the sound for one ear (mono audio)

The default audio setting on most smartphones is set so that you hear different sounds in each ear when using headphones. You can change this so that all sounds play in one ear.

Get alerts by flashing light

You may be able to set your phone to flash the LED light when you receive a message, phone call or other notification.

Adjust the time for touching and holding (touch and hold delay)

Touching and holding the screen carries out different actions on some smartphones, like moving or deleting icons on the home screen. Not all phones have this feature.

You can usually decide how long you need to tap for it to become 'touch and hold'.

Use your phone in one hand

If you mostly use your phone with one hand, there are some features you can use, including:

  • making the screen size smaller with the One-Handed Mode on Android
  • aligning the layout for left-handers and right-handers
  • changing to the one-handed keyboard on iPhone
  • adjusting the reachability on iPhone so you can reach things at the top of the screen by double tapping the home button

Replace button controls with swipes and taps

You can change the controls and gestures you use for different tasks on iPhone. For example, you can adjust the volume by swiping instead of using buttons. Or replace the pinch and zoom gesture with a tap. You can create custom gestures in 'AssistiveTouch' in settings. There are apps available to do this on Android.

Try out the phone first to make sure you can access the features you need.

Lock your phone in a single app (guided access or screen pinning)

Set your phone to stay locked into an app as you use it and control what other features you can access on your phone at the same time. Set this up with the Guided Access feature on iPhone in the 'Learning' section, and by using the pin icon on some Android phones.

Other ways of using your phone

You can connect your phone to other devices for control and communication, including:

  • keyboards
  • hearing aids
  • alternative communication systems
  • electronic Braille devices
  • smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo
  • switch devices

You may need to install an app and hardware for these to work.

Finding phone accessibility features

Go to the accessibility section in your phone's settings to see a list of features. They are usually in categories like audio or hearing, vision, display, interaction and controls. You can switch most features on and off individually. You might find more accessibility options in advanced settings or accessibility shortcuts on iPhone.

You can also set shortcuts for certain features. For example, ending a call with the power button or holding the volume button to turn on the screen reader.

Warning Before you switch on the features

Switching on accessibility features can change how your screen looks and how the phone works. You can switch these off by going back into the 'general' section in settings.

Smartphone tips and tricks

As you get used to your smartphone, you may find more ways to use it to make everyday tasks easier, for example:

  • use the camera live or take a photo to zoom in and read things like menus, paper documents and small print
  • take a screenshot to save an image of your screen to your photos to view later or zoom in
  • use the torch when there is not enough light for you to see
  • make notes and reminders using the voice recorder
  • use the front-facing camera or take a selfie instead of a mirror
  • take photos to save information and read it later
  • use Google Assistant to carry out tasks like opening apps, making calls or setting alarms

Ask our assistive technology expert for more tips on how to get the best out of your phone.

Accessibility features

Use these links to find out more or let a manufacturer know of any problems you have with their accessibility features.

Google accessibility

iPhone accessibility

Samsung accessibility

Motorola accessibility

Huawei accessibility

Complaints guide for encountering online accessibility barriers (Big Hack)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 22/11/2019

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