Assistive technology that’s built into mobile devices

By The Understood Team

Expert reviewed by Jamie Martin

Updated May 2, 2023

Assistive technology that's built into mobile devices, blind man using assistive tech on his cell phone

At a glance

  • Most mobile devices come with assistive technology (AT) that can help with reading, writing, and organization.

  • Common built-in AT features include text-to-speech, dictation technology, and visual supports that make reading easier.

  • Built-in assistive technology features vary among mobile brands.

Did you know that most smartphones and digital tablets have built-in assistive technology (AT) that can help with learning and thinking differences?

The range of AT features varies depending on the device’s operating system. But iOS devices like iPhones, as well as Android devices like Samsung Galaxy phones, all have built-in AT tools. You don’t need to buy special apps to use these built-in AT features.

Here’s how some of the more common tools can be helpful.

Built-in accessibility features in iOS

iOS is the operating system for iPhones and iPads. Unless stated otherwise, the AT features below can be activated on iOS devices through Settings > Accessibility.

For trouble with reading: iOS has two text-to-speech (TTS) options that are helpful for people who have trouble with reading. Both are found under Spoken Content. Speak Selection lets users select blocks of text to be read aloud. And Speak Screen reads entire pages of text.

In both TTS options, users can choose to have the words highlighted as they’re spoken. This feature can help make following along much easier.

The voice and reading speed for the TTS can also be changed. If a word isn’t read correctly, the way it’s said can be adjusted using the Pronunciations feature.

For trouble with vision: There are iOS features that help to change things like the text font and size. Users can also temporarily zoom in on their screen. These changes can be found in the settings of the device.

For trouble with writing: There are several iOS tools that can help with writing. The first is the built-in dictation (speech-to-text) feature. This feature lets users write with their voices instead of typing. It can be activated by pressing the microphone button on the bottom-right of the onscreen keyboard.

There’s also built-in word prediction called QuickType in the onscreen keyboard. As users type, it suggests words to use in their writing.

Both Dictation and QuickType are active by default. They can be turned on and off by going to General > Keyboard. To turn Dictation on or off, use the Enable Dictation toggle. Turn QuickType on or off with the Predictive toggle.

For trouble with motor skills: Some iOS features may be helpful for people who have difficulty with fine motor skills. For instance, Dictation may be helpful for people who struggle with keyboarding. There’s also a feature called AssistiveTouch (under the Settings >Accessibility > Touch category) that lets users customize hand gestures, like gestures for zooming in and out.

For trouble with focus: iOS devices come with a built-in web browser app called Safari. The Safari Reader feature can remove ads and visual clutter from the web browser to help with focus. To activate Safari Reader, press aA on the left side of the search bar.

Guided Access is another accessibility feature that can help with focus. This feature is often used by parents and teachers. It allows them to disable the device’s Home button so kids get “locked” into a certain app. Guided Access can even disable specific parts of an app that may be distracting.

For trouble with organization: iOS devices also come with a built-in calendar app that can help with remembering important dates. Using calendar reminders is one of the ways phones can help kids and adults get organized.

Apple laptop and desktop computers use an operating system called macOS. It has many of the same built-in AT features as iOS.

Built-in accessibility features in Android

Mobile devices powered by Google’s Android operating system come with some AT features similar to those in iOS. These can be activated in the Android device’s accessibility settings and apps.

For trouble with reading: TalkBack is a screen reading feature of Android that uses TTS technology to read aloud text from websites, email, and more. The tool’s voice can be changed, and the reading speed can be adjusted.

For trouble with vision: Like iOS, Android devices allow you to adjust text font and size, and temporarily zoom in on their screen. These changes can be found in the settings of the device.

For trouble with writing: Like iOS, Android has built-in dictation. By pressing the microphone button in the onscreen Google keyboard, users can type with their voices into any app. The keyboard also has built-in word prediction, which is active by default. It suggests words that users might be trying to write as they type.

For trouble with motor skills: Accessibility Menu is a feature that displays an onscreen menu of actions that require motor skills (like adjusting the device’s volume or taking a screenshot). It then offers easier onscreen gestures (usually just a tap or small finger swipe) to complete those actions.

For trouble with focus: If a user is easily distracted by an app’s bells and whistles, Android’s Digital Wellbeing and parental controls section (found under Settings) can help. The features here can limit the time spent in an app, set up do not disturb mode, and more.

For trouble with organization: Like iOS, Android devices also have a built-in calendar tool. This tool can help kids and adults remember important dates and tasks.

More about assistive technology on mobile devices

Key takeaways

  • Apple (iOS) and Android devices have built-in AT features.

  • These built-in AT tools come with the device. You don’t have to buy special apps to use them.

  • If you want more AT functions, you can download specific apps.

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