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Law Practice Magazine


Taking Advantage of Your Accessibility Menu

Erik Mazzone


  • What is the accessibility menu? Where do you find it? What kinds of changes are available to users? How can users select the changes and options that will work best for them?
  • Customizations to improve visual, motor and auditory accessibility offer huge opportunities to make it easier to use your phone, even if you’ve never thought you needed accessibility support. 
  • From AssistiveTouch to Zoom, find out what your phone can do that you’ve been missing.
Taking Advantage of Your Accessibility Menu

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Some years ago, I worked with a person who was more than a little obsessed with secret menus at restaurants, particularly the one at Starbucks. We had a Starbucks up the block from our office (the office was located on planet Earth, so, who doesn’t have one up the block?) and we would hit it regularly for an afternoon caffeine fix.

On these afternoon caffeine trips, my colleague would lean in to the barista during her order and drop her secret menu code words (“I will have the poisonous mushroom latte.”) and wait for the nod of acknowledgment from the barista. About one time in four, she would get a smile and a “game recognizes game” look. The other three out of four times the barista reactions featured some mixture of mild annoyance and confusion, which somehow never dampened my colleague’s enthusiasm for the whole enterprise.

The secret menu items were just customized versions of existing drinks on the menu. But the fun for my colleague was in the secret––the sense of unlocking a whole other dimension of a place she’d been a million times and knew like the back of her hand. It had a certain Harry Potterness about it that was kind of fun. 

There are one or two other corners of our daily world that also hold nooks not widely understood or explored. And if not secret exactly, some of these qualify as lesser-known and underutilized. Exploring them can reveal some new tricks and tips that can make life a little bit easier, and maybe even feel just a tiny bit like magic.

The place we are going to turn our focus today is within that most common of daily objects––one currently sitting on your desk, in your pocket in your hand. I refer to your phone.

After 17-ish years with these magical little devices that have morphed from curiosities to “smart phones” to just phones (bearing testimony to their ubiquity), they have in many respects lost the opportunity to surprise and delight us in the way they did in the beginning. But inside the recesses of your phone you will find an array of new functions, options and customizations to help make your phone easier to use, clearer to see and more of a pleasure. (And for the scope of this article, I am going to refer to iPhones and iOS options, but you Android users will find largely the same array of options just in different places.)

The menu of options I am referring to here is from the Accessibility Menu in General Settings.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Accessibility Menu, it is about inclusive design; features and options to make sure that the phone can be customized in ways to make the phone useful to everyone. Apple accessibility pages refer to “provid[ing] extraordinary opportunities to deliver high-quality experiences to everyone, including people with disabilities.” Android’s accessibility pages make a similar point, noting that Android’s accessibility features are “designed by and for people with disabilities in mind [so] you can engage with your world, your way.”

The tools provided within the accessibility menu cover options and customizations for physical/motor, audio and vision solutions. There may be a temptation on the part of most phone users to assume that if they have not perceived the need for accessibility tools up to now, that there is little value in those tools for them. Discarding the accessibility tools and self-selecting out of exploring and understanding these options is a mistake. The worst-case scenario of spending a bit of time to understand the options is that you find a little shortcut or customization that makes some part of your phone use a notch easier or more pleasant. The best case is that you find several options that help reduce challenges you have in using these omnipresent and mission-critical devices in our lives.

As with learning all technology, there is no substitute for digging into the menus yourself and experimenting with the options available to see which ones work for you and which do not. It can be overwhelming at the outset though, so to the end of making it a little bit easier to find some accessibility options that add value to your life, here are my top six features to explore.

  1. Zoom. Phone screens have gotten bigger and clearer, but compared to laptops and external monitors, we are still looking at tons of information on comparatively tiny screens. Magnifying things on the screen can be found under the “Zoom” option among the visual accessibility tools. Zoom allows you to magnify the things that appear on your phone screen.
  2. Door Detection. Like Zoom, but instead of magnifying the images rendered on your screen, your iPhone also has a magnifier built in that allows you to use the phone as a magnifying glass for seeing things in the real world. As an example of where this technology can go, within the magnifier, you can enable “detection mode.” This mode allows you to use the phone to detect doors (among other things) and let the user know how far they are from the door and how to open it.
  3. Spoken Content. Another vision-oriented option, Spoken Content allows you to set your phone to speak the screen or a selected block of text. You can also have the phone speak your typing out as you type words or letters to confirm you are typing what you intend to send.
  4. AssistiveTouch. AssistiveTouch is a set of gestures and options for helping replace the need to press physical buttons on the phone. It places a large button icon on the home screen of your phone, and you press that button to launch the AssistiveTouch menu, allowing you to access the Control Center, switch between apps, enable speak screen and more.
  5. Pairing with hearing device. For those phone users who use hearing assistive devices, you can connect your phone directly to your device using the Accessibility menu options. This allows you to take calls and access all other audio content from your phone directly through your hearing aid.
  6. Back Tap. One of the accessibility options that has made its way into my daily phone use is the ability to set up back taps (tapping your finger on the back of your phone, twice or three times) to run a preselected option. You can double tap the back to launch the flashlight, take a screen shot, launch the camera or a host of other options. A super handy addition to the way you interact with your phone for common gestures.

These six options give you just a flavor of the wide array of customizations available within the Accessibility menu to make your phone work well for you. If you find your phone difficult to navigate through visual, auditory or physical challenges, don’t assume that there is nothing that can be done to help ameliorate the issues. The Accessibility menu of options won’t solve every issue, but hopefully it will make your life with your phone just a little bit easier and more pleasant to navigate.

And once you unlock the mysteries of the accessibility options, be sure to pay it forward and let folks know which things you’ve found that work well for you––this is one menu we don’t want to keep secret.