The quest for a high contrasting black mobile phone experience for low vision users
by Jeffrey Stark
April 6th, 2013
I am a perfect example of someone who needs a high contrasting color scheme to be able to effectively use an interface.
On the PC I use a combination of speech output, magnification and high contrasting colors. If I use a white background with black text I require 12x-14x magnification; however, if I use white text on a black background I only require 4x-6x magnification to read the same information. So, as you can see, that black interface is tremendously important to me. I am of course not the minority in this area, as one just needs to look at the most common features designed for low vision users built into CCTVs, Screen Magnification software and various Operating Systems and the majority of these features revolve around setting background/foreground colors and font sizes. I'm not as big of a fan of the "inverting" functions you find in screen magnification software, (such as Zoomtext), on some browsers like Chrome or on certain devices like the iPhone because colors invert but the setting doesn't deliver a true white on black color scheme. In addition to this, the inverting function creates an unusable color combination if a screen within an application or a webpage is gray or black. Finally, inverting also usually inverts pictures and photos, making friends and family look like aliens.
When I am using a mobile phone with a touch screen that black interface becomes significantly more important because I rely less on magnification (to be honest none at all) and rely on voice. However, I use my sight to speed up navigation and follow what's going on, on the screen itself. For example when I can see where buttons are, I can go to them directly with my finger, thus skipping over the linear top to bottom reading that is imposed by default with a screen reader and instead moving directly to the object I want.
This is how my quest for the perfect high contrast black setup for low vision users on android began. I am aware that android has certain firmware versions with high contrasting themes built in; however, I want to focus on features that are applicable across the majority of android devices without flashing a custom firmware. I am focusing on apps that work well with Talkback and that whenever possible provide a black background and not just inverting the screen. The emphasis is on devices that run the latest version of Android's operating system.
Below, you will find the collection of setting changes and apps that I have found. I know there are more, so in sharing this information with you, I am hoping you will share your experience and suggestions too.
Luckily, many of the base screens in android such as the settings screen and notification shade have a black background with bright text. Many apps have the ability to download additional black themes or have a black theme called "night" mode that can be enabled in the settings of the app.
The first thing I change on android is the background that the launcher uses. While you could just upload an all-black jpg image and point it to that black jpg image, I prefer to use Starfield live wallpaper; which has both the "cool" factor and meets the high contrast requirement. Once installed, you can enable this custom live wallpaper by going into settings, display, wallpaper, live wallpaper and enabling the starfield wallpaper. This will instantly change your lock screen and workspaces in your launcher to a dark background with itty bitty stars flying across the screen in the background.
Many of the 3rd party text messaging apps have black themes (i.e. handsend and go sms). I myself use Text Talk; which has a dark theme that can be enabled in the app's setting screen and also provides a great voice recognition option for sending text messages.
AquaMail is one of the most feature rich email clients for android. It supports multiple mailboxes, has a smart inbox for collating mail from all your different accounts. It also has the ability to not only theme the interface with a black background that can even extend into emails, but also adjust the font size on the fly.
Calendar++ Dark Is a simple calendar app that was designed to present your Google calendars in a high contrasting black theme
For Twitter & high contrast, I use Plume for twitter; which has a black theme available that can be enabled in the app's setting screen
In android 4.2's browser and the latest version of the chrome browser, launch the browser and go into settings, accessibility and turn on invert colors. Because it is simply inverting, this doesn't give you high contrasting black background with white text on every web page, but is the best solution I have found so far.
Don’t forget to check out The quest for a high contrasting black mobile phone experience for low vision users – Part 2
Now it is your turn, what apps do you use that have a high contrasting bright text and black background that work well with Talkback?