I think about Accessibility quite a lot, not because I have difficulty using computers though my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but because it’s genuinely important. Technology is an enabler, something that is supposed to empower ordinary people to be able to achieve and communicate more, and to allow them easy and quick access to everything they may not otherwise have access to, be that information, shopping, or easy to use government services.
It’s also true that many people find computers difficult to use for very practical reasons, such as those who have difficulty getting to grips with a mouse, can’t see tiny text on screens, or perhaps for a multitude of other reasons you and I can’t even imagine.
We tend to think of accessibility as helping people who have a disability, but it actually goes far further than that. There are millions of people around the world who benefit from assistive technologies, from those with shaky hands, to people who are dyslexic, colour-blind, or even that just work in a really noisy environment like a factory floor.
Every major operating system includes assistive technologies, and this includes Google’s Android operating system, as installed on the Gemini PDA. They vary slightly from one another, but broadly all offer similar features and functions to help those people with visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor impairment.
I’m the author of the Windows 10 Accessibility Handbook (Apress, 2015). This is not only a book I fought for several years, and across several publishers, to get written, but that is (if you can believe such a thing) the only book of its kind in the world.
This is a book aimed at general accessibility, and one that is as equally useful for my elderly father is it would be for an injured war veteran, or somebody who has developed ALS.
This got me thinking about the Gemini, and how this could help make smartphones more accessible to people. Think for a minute about what a smartphone is, a large slab of plain glass that, on the latest handsets, doesn’t even feature physical home, search and back buttons any more.
Then look at smartphone use for somebody with very poor, or even no vision. How would you know where to tap on screen to activate apps and features, let alone use the on-screen keyboard? This is why some people rely heavily on screen readers, and voice commands. However, noisy or public environments can make those difficult to use, presenting a challenge for a blind smartphone user who wants to let their colleague know they’ve arrived at the coffee shop.
Then you have users with poor motor skills who might find it anywhere from awkward to completely impossible to use an on-screen keyboard, or small, fiddly controls like drop-down menus and check-boxes.
This is where the Gemini offers several advantages. I won’t suggest for a moment it can solve everybody’s problem, but there are several key areas in which is does excel. The first is clearly with that keyboard. People who cannot see their screen still need to send and reply to messages, and the full keyboard layout will be familiar to almost everybody. Having a decent sized, high quality keyboard with clear delineation between different keys can help both those who can’t see, or who can’t easily use an on-screen keyboard, or that might have to rely on inaccurate voice recognition when out and about. This is not even to mention that as it’s an integrated keyboard, you never have to worry about a dropped Bluetooth connection.
The Android function shortcut keys on the Gemini keyboard can also help with accessibility. It would take people a little while to get used to them, but even for the vast majority of Gemini users they’ll become muscle memory after a while. When you look further you can also find other technologies in the Gemini that can help people, such as the alert LEDs on the outside of the case, that can be used by people who have a hearing impairment or that, as I mentioned earlier, just work somewhere really loud.
The Gemini PDA holds so much promise, not just for fans, business people, bloggers, and those who always need to be prepared to work on the move. It also holds tremendous promise for those people who find smartphone use annoying, difficult, or perhaps even impossible.
The next time you see someone struggling with a smartphone, pass them your Gemini for a couple of minutes, and let them see how they get on with it. They might be surprised.
You can find out more about Assistive Technologies on Android, and how they can help you or the people you know, or support, on this link.
Mike Halsey is the author of 18 books on Microsoft Windows usability, accessibility and troubleshooting, writing for Apress, and has been a Microsoft MVP awardee since 2011. He produces video courseware for Pluralsight and also teaches English and Maths for a local charity near his home in Yorkshire (UK). He lives quietly with his rescue collies, Evan and Robbie. He runs the Gemini Planet website and it’s accompanying Facebook Group. You can follow him on Twitter as @MikeHalsey