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New Google accessibility app lets you completely control an Android phone with your voice

Published Oct 2nd, 2018 8:00PM EDT

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At this year’s Google I/O event, accessibility and inclusive technology took a much bigger spot in the software lineup than usual. Google made its commitment to improving accessibility across all platforms extra-clear, and those promises are starting to line up with real products that you can download and use.

Today, Google has released a new Voice Access app for Android that provides a more complete and detailed version of smartphone voice control than we’ve ever seen before. Rather than limiting your interactions to preset commands through a digital assistant, Voice Access is designed to replace every tap on a touchscreen with a voice option. In most instances, it won’t be faster or more convenient than a touch UI, but for people with limited mobility, Voice Access promises to be a game-changer.

“After using this product for probably about 10 seconds, I think I’m falling in love with it,” Stefanie Putnam, a quadriplegic and a para-equestrian driver who has been using the app, said in a Google blog. “You use your voice and you’re able to access the world. It has become a huge staple in my life.”

In some instances, the Voice Access app works much like the Google Assistant, or duplicates the commands:

When using Voice Access, you can compose and edit a text message hands free by saying “Ok Google,” and open your favorite app with the “open” command.

But once you’re on a more complex menu field, the Voice Access app puts numbers next to buttons or text fields, which lets you select them with your voice:

After you start Voice Access, numbers appear next to everything on your screen that you can interact with.

For example, you might see the number 7 next to a Save button, like this: Voice Access number 7. To select the Save button, you could say any of these commands:

  • 7
  • Save
  • Click 7
  • Click Save

If two items on your screen have the same text label (such as two “Options” menus), you can say the number instead of the word. Also, if a text label is long or difficult to pronounce, saying the number might be easier.

If you’re not sure which item on your screen goes with a number, you can say “What is [number]?” For example, “What is 7?”

There’s also granular controls for phone functions, like turning on and off Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Google sees the app primarily as a tool forusers with mobility challenges, but it also thinks that the voice control could be useful for anyone with their hands full. The app is available on Android right now.

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.