Making an Android Smartphone truly accessible for a senior citizen

Hitanshu Gandhi    Updated
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TL;DR – For senior citizens with diabetes linked neuropathy resulting in deterioration in hypermetropia and hand dexterity, the best phone would be a near-stock Android phone, with special software to simplify the user experience:

  • Launcher: Elder Launcher
  • SMS: SMS Organizer
  • Phone security & App installs via Play Store locked using eSET mobile security (free if you buy eSET internet security on amazon – same key for PC and mobile!) , and disabled the inbuilt package installer.
  • AnyDesk installed for remote troubleshooting
  • Accessibility:
    • Font and image size increased
    • Set brightness to 75%
    • Keyboard height to max via Gboard -> Settings -> Preferences -> Keyboard Height
    • Disabled autocorrect
    • Set phone to use back button at the bottom of the screen vs using any gestures (which require fine control)
    • Maximized the “Touch and Hold” threshold because she is unable to touch the screen with any modicum of dexterity. She presses it for far too long.
    • Activated the “Touch to Read” feature in Android. This helps her touch on a new whatsapp message even if she doesnt have her spectacles nearby (99% of the time)
  • Added emergency contact information
  • Taught her to use Google Voice typing
  • Taught her to use Google Assistant
  • Installed Aarogya Setu
  • Included her in my family subscription to YouTube Premium to prevent her from clicking on any random ad links
  • Set her ringtone as the Nokia ringtone
  • Got her a tempered glass and rugged case with kickstand for convenient Whatsapp Video calls

What is the mindset of a typical mid/late 70s senior citizen:

  1. Less is more: They cannot deal with complexity – a simpler launcher with just 4/5 basic icons is what they need.
  2. They have no understanding of phone/web UX: They Do not understand the concept of forward/back – an essential part of the web.
  3. Slightly longer but simpler workflows are better than clever workflows. The clever way to “Copy OTP” from messages was something my mom could not reconcile. She will still disconnect the call, scan the SMS, then call me back.
  4. Search is unnecessary and hard given their dexterity. Simpler shortcuts / favorites are what they appreciate.

Further discussions:

  • Launcher: Elder Launcher is very nice and ad-free.
    • Alternatives:
      • BIG launcher:
        • This is a lovely suite (launcher, phone, SMS) for seniors that costs roughly 1300 all inclusive).
        • The only reason I didn’t buy it is because you cannot mute service providers.
        • Their free design is a bit restrictive – only 4 icons
  • SMS: SMS Organizer is ideal because you can mute specific senders like the Jio Balance alert.
  • Phone security via eSET mobile security:
    • Its primary purpose was as an applock for the Play Store to prevent her from clicking on some random link and ending up installing an unwanted or unsafe app.
    • Luckily it is free if you buy eSET internet security (350/year) on amazon which gives you the same key for PC+mobile!
    • To prevent any app installs via APK download links, I disabled the inbuilt package installer via Settings -> Apps and searching for it, then disabling it.
    • A very knowledgeable friend suggested MalwareBytes which is far faster for database updates and has a much lighter footprint
  • I also installed AnyDesk for remote troubleshooting which is often possible with parents who don’t understand technology.
    • Alternative was Teamviewer Quick Support but their tool had more visible lag and was inaccurate in touches near the bottom of the screen
  • I taught my mom to use Google Voice typing. It is absolutely incredible since it allows her to input a fairly error-free sentence at speeds that she can never manage using the touchscreen keyboard
  • YouTube Premium:
    • Instead of teaching her how to avoid installing any app or device, including her in the family premium plan was an easy way to improve her youtube bhajan experience.

Other thoughts which I have not yet tried out but came from trusted competent friends:

  • Google Family Link:
    • Keeps content family safe and prevents app updates unless authorized