Google updates Voice Access app, expands to more devices

The rollout comes on International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Abrar Al-Heeti Video producer / CNET
Abrar Al-Heeti is a video host and producer for CNET, with an interest in internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. Before joining the video team, she was a writer for CNET's culture team. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET breaking down the latest trends on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, while also reporting on diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Credentials
  • Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has twice been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Abrar Al-Heeti
2 min read
Google Voice Access image

Google's Voice Access is getting an upgrade.


Google on Thursday launched an update to its Voice Access app, which debuted in 2018 to let people navigate their phones with their voice. Initially available on Android 11, the updated version of Voice Access is now available in beta worldwide on devices running Android 6.0 and up.

Machine learning and a new interface make Voice Access easier to use, Google says. Before, Voice Access would draw numbers on your phone's screen so you could say commands like "tap 1" or "scroll down on 5." The updated version of Voice Access lets you ask for labels instead of numbers -- so, for instance, you could say, "Open Chrome" or "reply." 

This can be particularly helpful for people with motor disabilities, Google notes, such as those with ALS, spinal cord injuries or arthritis. But it can also help people with a temporary disability, such as a broken arm, or someone whose hands are otherwise occupied with a task like cooking.

The updated app also includes new commands that let you complete tasks more quickly. Rather than saying "tap search" and then "type kittens," for instance, you can now just say "search for kittens" within YouTube, Photos and other apps. 

When installing or upgrading to the new version of Voice Access, you'll have the option to either have the app launch whenever you use your phone, or to say "Hey Google, Voice Access" when you need it.

The updates come on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which "aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development," according to the United Nations. More tech companies, like Twitter, Facebook and Apple, are launching accessibility features as organizations and advocates point out the disparities that exist. The coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the urgency of disability accommodations, as more people depend on online interactions for everyday tasks.

See also: Veterans who lost limbs learn to game again with adaptive controllers

See also: Here are 7 of Android 11's best new features you have to try right now