In the last few years, several news apps have been released so that users can keep up with what is going on in their town, in their country, and in their world. A lot of these apps are highly visual, which means that users with low vision and blindness often shy away from using them. However, there are accessible news apps out there for people who can't read small or standard print. Here are five free and accessible news apps for low vision users that support large print, screen readers, plus magnification on Android and iOS.
Android apps were tested on a Pixel 2 running Android 8.1, also known as Android Oreo, with select-to-speak, large font, and magnification accessibility settings. Learn more about accessibility settings for earlier versions of Android here.
Newsela is a news app that is designed for students of all reading levels. It has articles about many different topics including science, technology, arts, government, and current events. One of the unique features about this app is that each article is available at five different lexile levels so that readers of all grade levels and reading comprehension levels can be included, though available comprehension levels vary depending on the article. Another cool feature is that articles are also available in Spanish, which makes it awesome for ESL students or students taking Spanish classes. Schools can also purchase Newsela subscriptions so that teachers can manage entire classes.
Newsela supports dynamic text, which is large, clear print. I found the scrolling a bit awkward at first because I couldn't scroll at the edge of the screen, it had to be about an inch from the edge. Because of this, it also took me a while to get used to Zoom, though it can be done. VoiceOver worked well when I tested it, but I wish there was a native screen reader that came with the app. Download Newsela for the iPad here.
Newsela displayed text at the same size as my phone settings, without text running off the screen. The scrolling problem with iPad was not present here, it was very natural to scroll through articles and explore the app. Both select-to-speak and TalkBack were supported, and magnification worked great too. Download Newsela for Android here.
Flipboard allows users to curate their own digital magazines from hundreds of online sources, as well as follow other magazines curated by companies or users. Articles are read from within the app and displayed on their original publishing source. There are magazines on almost any topic one can think of, as well as magazines dedicated to specific news sources such as Washington Post. The flip animation is not intense and students with motion sensitivity should not be affected by it. Speaking of magazines, learn more about accessing magazines with low vision here.
This app has been recognized by the Apple App Store for its accessibility with VoiceOver and ease of use. I also appreciate the large text and how well it works with Zoom. Apple fans can also find a wide array of articles about iOS, new apps, and more. Download Flipboard for the iPad here.
I have used Flipboard more often on my phone than my iPad, simply because my phone is more portable. I enable extra large text and use the select-to-speak screen reader for articles. I don't use the magnifier because I prefer to pinch to zoom in on text instead. Download Flipboard for Android here.
Apple News displays articles from many national and international news sources, and displays articles from within the app, no navigating to web pages to read articles. With location services enabled, users can also view local and regional news, though I do not have this enabled. I also did not see any ads, which I was really excited about.
The app looks amazing with dynamic text and displays large, bold, and clear text that is easy to navigate. The black text on white background was a bit tiring to read on after a while, so I turned on a filter in magnification settings to change the display to negative, and that worked great. VoiceOver also works fantastic, though I have found that images are occasionally not detected, though this is not too much of an issue since captions are detected. This app comes pre-installed on iOS devices and is included in the iOS 11 update.
Amazon Alexa Flash Briefing
While not technically an app, Amazon Alexa can create a flash briefing for users that can read top news stories from popular news sources which are chosen by the user. Other Amazon Alexa skills can be added to the flash briefing as well such as the weather or other information. I love using my flash briefing because I don’t have to worry about flashing lights or accessible text- Alexa just reads me everything. Learn more about the Amazon Echo Dot here.
TV News Apps
I’m not highlighting any specific TV news app here, because interface and accessibility wise, they are all the same to me. Users can access news articles, videos, and watch live TV through these apps, though some apps may require a cable subscription. I have found that these apps have not very large print on iPad, though integrate well with accessibility features on devices. The text enlarges well on my phone, but I think I'll stick with checking websites directly for articles. Some users may prefer to use these apps because of the video capabilities and breaking news notifications with large text.
I encourage users to try out each app and figure out what works best for them, as it is different for everyone. I hope you have enjoyed my roundup of five free and accessible apps for users with low vision!