Prospects for an accessible and open version of Android?

Linux for blind general discussion blinux-list at
Sun Jun 21 15:43:26 UTC 2020

Okay, my two-cents.

For me, accessibility is all about the operating system. Some people love Android, and I don’t understand why. Its accessibility frameworks hold everything back. Like, if the accessibility frameworks don’t support something, then getting it supported will be much harder. The operating system is literally the core of accessibility. Sure, something like Emacspeak might sit on top of Linux, but that doesn’t make Linux any more accessible, it just means that Emacspeak has to do the job of a screen reader and all that. And that’s a shame. None of the current offerings could possibly do the job that Emacspeak does, except Narrator on Windows 10.

And I’d much rather have the actual openness of Linux, even with its poorly optimized accessibility stack, than shriveled Android which, until, supposedly, version 11, one could not use multiple finger gestures with Talkback. This is a big deal, and I don’t know that people looking for a small solution completely realize how far behind Android is. I don’t care if one can get things done on Android, I care what it's like to get things done.

You know, there have been some Google employees who I’ve talked to who have found doing things like trying to connect one type of computer to another through Google Remote as “fun”. Others have said that using the clunky actions menu to delete email in the ill-fated Inbox app is “fun”. I think they actually mean frustrating, and just aren’t allowed to say it about their own products, because that’s what using Android was like for me, a quite technical person. I mean, I’ve not taken a computer apart before and put one together; I’m too afraid of breaking things, especially the Raspberry Pi. But I have used all major operating systems, and gosh darn it I just want to get work done! I don’t have time to fiddle around with screen reader workarounds to a poor accessibility stack. I don’t have time to set variables  just to turn on accessibility in a desktop environment. But I would much prefer the open source nature of Linux, where the screen reader is updated by feedback from users, than Google’s “well I mean, I think this screen reader feature is good haha, y’all users stop complaining, its not that bad.” Sort of I-Know-What’s-Best view of Google’s Talkback developers. So, would you want to make, or use, a whole different screen reader in your version of Android? Because Google makes Talkback. It’s not open source, or at least, not the latest version. I believe the open source version is actually quite a few versions out of date. So please, let’s stick with Linux, where we have control.

Devin Prater
r.d.t.prater at


> On Jun 21, 2020, at 9:47 AM, Linux for blind general discussion <blinux-list at> wrote:
>> On Jun 21, 2020, at 00:47, (Janina) wrote:
>> ... I wonder if asking an Android phone to serve this function is
>> more an academic exercise than a practical one at this point?
>> I say this because I'm just now in the process of buying my next
>> (natively) Linux computer, and it's quite small. It comes pretty close
>> to the size of an Android phone. So, I suspect it might be the easier
>> path of practicality is the point. ...
> There are a number of small systems showing up on the market these days.
> I think this is great, but it doesn't really address the use case I have
> in mind (a pocket-sized computer with instant-on capability).  The issues
> include integration, cost, size, weight, and instant-on capacity.
> The Intel-based systems tend to be pricier than the RasPi ones, but all
> of them cost at least a few hundred dollars.  Adding an internal UPS is
> going to raise that by at least another hundred dollars.  Also, someone
> will have to engineer and fabricate the add-on UPS board, battery, etc.
> A retired Android cell phone, in contrast, will already have a built-in
> UPS and can be found for well under $100.  For a poor (e.g., third-world)
> blind user, these may be critical issues.
> Size and weight are also important.  The mini PC systems fit nicely on a
> desktop, but none of them will fit into a normal pocket.  Carrying one
> around would thus require something like a backpack.  Some users would be
> OK with this, but I think most would not.
> So, this is a serious practical question, rather than an academic exercise.
> If we could find a way to put usable portable computers into the hands of
> blind users around the world, that would be a major contribution.  Also, I
> think the effort might lead to useful enhancements in at least some of the
> mainstream Android distributions.
> - Rich Morin
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