To commemorate the ninth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day today, Google released Action Blocks, an Android app that uses Google Assistant to begin actions with the faucet of a home shortcut. Complementing this, the corporate released a slew of updates across AI-powered accessibility tools like Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier.
Research shows that disabilities remain a serious impediment to tech usage. Disabled people are about 3 times as likely as those without a disability to refrain from using the web , consistent with a 2016 Pew research facility survey. They’re also 20% less likely to subscribe home broadband or own a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Google asserts that AI features a role to play in rectifying this, and it’s not the sole one — companies like Microsoft and Amazon have also invested heavily in AI for accessibility.
Action Blocks — which works on Android 5.0 and above in English but not for children’s Google Accounts just yet — are often linked to any corresponding Google Assistant action. In fact, they will be configured to try to to anything Assistant can do, including (but not limited to) queuing up a show, controlling connected lights, ordering a rideshare, or calling a loved one .
In this respect, Action Blocks are like Apple’s Siri Shortcuts, an iOS feature that lets users quickly perform preprogrammed tasks with a faucet or by asking Siri. As Google explains: “Built with the growing number of individuals with age-related conditions and cognitive differences in mind, Action Blocks also can be used for people with learning differences, or maybe for adults who need a very simple thanks to access routine actions on their phones. Action Blocks can also be useful for anyone who may benefit from a neater thanks to perform routine actions on their device.”
This week, Google also updated Live Transcribe, which provides real-time speech-to-text transcriptions of conversations for people that are deaf or hard of hearing. Live Transcribe can now set a user’s phone to vibrate when someone nearby says their name; accept custom names or terms for various places and objects not commonly found within the dictionary; and search across three days’ worth of conversations stored locally on-device. Additionally, the app’s language support has expanded to Albanian, Burmese, Estonian, Macedonian, Mongolian, Punjabi, and Uzbek.
In related news, Google’s Sound Amplifier, a tool that clarifies the sound around users, now works with Bluetooth headphones and may boost the audio from media playing on Pixel devices. Chrome’s Get Image Descriptions feature, which uses AI to explain unlabeled images on the online , now understands French, German, Hindi, Italian, and Spanish. Voice Access on Android recognizes commands like “zoom in,” “magnify,” “pan left,” and “go right,” with a replacement grid view that lets people navigate their phones more easily. And in Google Maps and Google Search, it’s now easier to seek out accessibility information about over 15 million places in Australia, Japan, the UK, and the U.S.