Beginning TalkBack

What is TalkBack?

TalkBack is a Screen Reader. Screen readers are software applications that will attempt to identify, interpret, and read the information being presented on the computer’s screen.
TalkBack is built in to Android devices. You might hear it referred to as “Android TalkBack” or “Google TalkBack”
Traditional screen readers like JAWS, NVDA, Window-Eyes, and Dolphin operate off of keyboard input. TalkBack operates off of touch screen gestures similar to other mobile device screen readers such as iOS VoiceOver and Windows Narrator.

What is a Gesture?

A gesture is the way in which you touch the touch screen display of your mobile device to perform actions like opening apps, having text read, and moving through items.
Different gestures require different types of touches. While other mobile device screen readers utilize gestures with multiple fingers, all TalkBack gestures only require a single finger.
Some gestures are performed by dragging your finger along the screen, tapping your finger on the screen, or some combination, repetition, or sequence of both .

Turning TalkBack On and Off

There are two different ways for users to turn on and off TalkBack. Users can navigate through settings to turn TalkBack on and off. There is also a great feature that can be set up called the Accessibility Shortcut which will be the easiest way to turn TalkBack on and off.


Navigating through settings is the main way to turn TalkBack on and off. If you have your accessibility button enabled, you’ll find using that feature provides an easier way to turn on TalkBack. However, going through Settings is the only way to turn TalkBack off.
Settings appears as an application icon, just like any other app on the iPad. In Settings, go to Accessibility. In Accessibility, go to TalkBack. Under TalkBack, turn TalkBack on.
To turn off TalkBack in the TalkBack section, touch the on/off button once again. You’ll hear TalkBack say, “Alert: Stop TalkBack. Touching Ok will Stop TalkBack”. Move down to the OK button to continue.

Accessibility Shortcut

The easiest way to turn on TalkBack is to use the accessibility shortcut. This allows users hold the power button and then two finger tap and hold to enable TalkBack. This shortcut only works to turn TalkBack on.
To setup the accessibility shortcut to work with TalkBack, go to Settings, select General, then select Accessibility. The last item in the Accessibility section is the Accessibility Shortcut, select it. In this section, you’ll see text that says, “Triple-click the home button for:” followed by this list of items: VoiceOver, Invert Colors, Grayscale, Zoom, Switch Control, AssistiveTouch. Select VoiceOver. Note that if any other items on this list are selected, the functionality of the accessibility shortcut will be different. For now, I recommend only having VoiceOver selected.

The Home Screen

Before we start using TalkBack, we need to understand the environment we’re going to be working in. The main interface of Andriod is referred to as the Home Screen. When you activate a the home button, this is where you’ll land. This part of the interface will give us information about our system and access to our recently used apps.
The home screen is organized into three distinct sections. The status bar, apps, and the dock.
The Status Bar Here you can find basic status information, such as notifications, the status of your battery, and connections to Wifi, Bluetooth, or your mobile network. Note that if your focus is on the status bar, you can’t use the usual swipe gesture to move to the next item. To move focus out of the status bar, touch another part of the screen.
Apps Apps are small programs that perform specific tasks, such as check the weather, listen to music, send email, or read books. Apps are opened via icons on your screen. For example, the Gmail icon on your home screen opens the Gmail app. To discover what apps are on your Home screen, simply move your finger over the screen. To open an app once it has focus, double-tap the screen. To explore all apps on your device, locate the icon called “Apps” and double-tap. You’re likely to have more than one screenful of apps, and you can move between screens with a two-finger left or right swipe. TalkBack will announce what page you’re on, such as “Page 1 of 3.” To add an app to your Home screen, touch the app once to give it focus, then double-tap and hold to place it on the Home screen.
The Search Bar Some Android devices automatically include a search bar on the Home screen. Here you can search the web without needing to open a separate app. If your device doesn’t include the search bar automatically, you can add it as a widget (refer to the Widgets section below).
Notifications The status bar at the top of the screen includes notifications. To open the notifications, two-finger swipe down from the top of the screen. To close the notification shade, use a two-finger swipe from left to right.
Folders Folders are collections of apps. For example, a Google Play folder might hold a collection of Google Play apps, such as Play Music, Play Books, and Play Movies. Folder icons can appear on your Home screen just like app icons. You can open the folder, then explore the app icons inside the folder by moving your finger over the screen.
Widgets Your Home screen might also have widgets. Widgets are shortcuts to let you get information or perform tasks extra quickly. For example, the Calendar widget displays your calendar on your Home screen so that you can read your calendar events without any extra steps. To add a new widget, touch and hold two fingers on the Home screen. When you hear “Home screen one of one,” you’re on the screen where you can add widgets. Near the bottom of the screen, locate the “Widgets” button, then double-tap to select. Swipe right or left to move your focus through the widgets, then two finger swipe left to move to the next page. To add a widget, double-tap it while it has focus.

Starting TalkBack Tips

An important and sometimes difficult concept for using TalkBack is to listen. It sounds easy enough but can prove more difficult when exercising it in action. Listening as TalkBack speaks is critical. TalkBack will explain the context your in and will often give you directions about what gestures are relevant. So, taking a deep breath and being patient, it extremely important. If I do a gesture while TalkBack is speaking, TalkBack will stop speaking about the last active item and move to the new item. This means that if we rush around, we’ll miss what could be critical information.
Don’t get discouraged. This technology (like most technologies) is not perfect. Occasionally you will perform a gesture that VoiceOver will interpret as a completely different gesture. Sometimes your OS might slow down and TalkBack might start going slow. Sometimes you will be completely baffled. It’s all part of the process.

Starting Gestures

Single Finger Tap This gesture selects an item. What does that mean? Well, it moves the focus to that item. Visually the item becomes outlined. However, having focus means that we can perform an action on that item. For example, to open an app in TalkBack, you’ll first need to select it and bring the focus to it.
Single Finger Drag The problem with the single finger tap is that it requires you to tap on something. For users who can’t see the screen, being able to find and tap the correct area of the screen is much more difficult. Instead, users can do a single finger drag. This will move the focus around the screen as you drag your finger. Whatever item was last announced by TalkBack is the item that has focus. This gesture is extremely useful for finding apps, moving through controls, and using the on screen keyboard.
Single Finger Flick Left and Right Another important gesture for moving the focus around is the single finger flick. If you’re a Windows user, you can think of the single finger flick as being analogous to the Tab key. The flick will move you forwards and backwards through available items. If your focus is on the app in your home screen that is in the top left grid space, a single finger tap will move you to the next app in the top row. Continue to perform this gesture, and you’ll eventually move through all the apps on the first page of your home screen.
Single Finger Double Tap The single finger double tap is how you activate an item. This gesture is critical. You will use it to open apps, submit forms, toggle settings, and more. As you can tell from that list, exactly what this gesture will do varies depending on the active item. If the active item in an app, it will launch the app. If the active item is a hyperlink, it will send you to that page. If the active item is text, it won’t do anything!

The Back Button, Home Button, and Overview Button

The Back Button Lets you exit the current context and go up in the hierarchy
The Home Button Returns you to the home screen.
Overview Button Shows open apps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s