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Getting started with TalkBack on Android

Introduction to TalkBack

TalkBack is assistive technology that helps users with visual disabilities access native mobile applications and the web by providing audible and haptic responses to touchscreen gestures. It is the default screen reader software included on Google touchscreen devices running the Android operating system.

As of 2017, TalkBack is part of a family of software products in the Android Accessibility Suite including:

  • Accessibility Menu
  • Select to Speak
  • Switch Access

The Android Accessibility Suite comes pre-installed on devices running Android 9 or greater.

This article is an introduction to TalkBack version 13.1. We will walk you through the basics of enabling the software and navigating websites and applications with it.

Getting Started

There are three ways to activate Talkback:

  1. From the settings menu: Accessibility > TalkBack > Toggle On
  2. On the physical device: Press and hold both volume keys for three seconds
  3. Via the Google Assistant: "Hey, Google. Turn on TalkBack"

Once TalkBack is on, it will begin speaking instructions to you. While there are more robust features to explore, the basic commands you should know are:

  • Tapping the screen selects an item, and
  • Double tapping the screen activates your selection.

TalkBack also makes use of single finger, two finger, and three finger gestures to perform additional actions.

There are at least three recognized ways to navigate with TalkBack: touch, swipe, and voice commands.

To navigate by touch, touch anywhere on the screen, selecting any element. It will be highlighted by a green border box similar to what you would find when using a keyboard to navigate a web page.

With pressure still applied, slowly drag your finger around the screen. As you move around the screen, TalkBack will jump to the next available item and announce its contents aloud. Once you've found the content you'd like to interact with, double-tap the screen.

Navigating by swiping can provide a more precise experience. To navigate in this way, select an initial item by tapping on the screen. Then, with one finger, move left and right on the screen to move to the previous or next item.

Selected items will be read aloud by TalkBack in the order they appear. Double-tap the screen once you've found the content you'd like to interact with.

Swiping gestures may also be customized in TalkBack's preferences.

In addition to touch controls, TalkBack supports some voice commands. To activate voice commands, using one finger, swipe down and right.

This gesture will open the TalkBack Menu. Select voice commands from the list to open a prompt with more information about specific commands you can use to navigate the page with just your voice.

Basic TalkBack Commands

Use one finger to tap your device's screenReads the selected item aloud
Use two fingers to tap your device's screenPauses the current reading
Double-tap your devices screenActivates the selected item
Move two fingers up or down the screenScrolls up or down the content
Quickly flick up or downChanges the read aloud speed
Use one finger to swipe down and rightOpens the TalkBack Menu

Wrapping up

You can start using TalkBack and your new skills right now! Get a feel for how these commands work in real life by navigating with TalkBack turned on.

Further reading