Android Accessibility: Part 3 of 4 – "Reduced Motion"

This article originally appeared in the March 2023 edition of Inside Equal Access. 

By: Doug Flower

In the last two editions of Inside Equal Access, I reviewed two accessibility features of Apple iOS 16: Door Detection and Live Captions and how we can use them as a basis for making our own content more accessible. Switching gears (and devices!) for these next two editions, I’d like to take a closer look at some of the best accessibility features in the latest version of the Android operating system, Android 13, released on the Google Pixel 7, Pixel 7 Pro, and other Android-based devices. Android 13 is Google’s “most accessible OS yet,” and it boasts several useful accessibility features that will help even more people enjoy what Android devices have to offer.

The first new Android accessibility feature that I’ll be reviewing in this edition, reduced motion, can be found referenced in the article “Android 13: The top accessibility features” (Android Police), which does a great job of summarizing all of the newest accessibility additions to this Android release.

Let’s take a closer look at the reduced motion settings in Android 13 and what it means for accessibility in greater detail.

Accessibility Feature #3 – Reduced Motion

Android 13 includes some unique color and motion accessibility features for those who have certain visual disabilities, color blindness, or neurologic and vestibular conditions. The vestibular system refers to a sensory system, located in the inner ear, that creates a sense of balance and spatial orientation. Vestibular conditions can include symptoms like dizziness, disorientation, blurred vision, or “feeling as if you’re floating or as if the world is spinning.” (Johns Hopkins Medicine)

Figure Caption: A diagram of the balance system (also known as the vestibular system) of the inner ear.

It’s worth noting that the causes of motion sensitivity can also stem from migraines, infections, and other factors. The causes and severity of the condition can vary from person to person.

One way that Android 13 helps to alleviate these symptoms is through a motion setting called Remove Animations. This setting “removes system animations as you move around the operating system,” which is great for those who are particularly sensitive to visual effects. Turning down (or removing) animations such as zooming, spinning, or fade effects also has the added benefit of speeding up system performance and improving battery life in some cases.

The Smashing Magazine article “Designing With Reduced Motion For Motion Sensitivities” goes into greater detail on the appeal of reduced motion features with practical examples and solutions for those looking to create a more motion-friendly experience.

“The design choices we make around animation in our work directly impacts how our work affects people with motion sensitivities. Knowing what kinds of motion are potentially triggering, and how we can mitigate them with our design choices, helps us design experiences that are safe for our audience and won’t cause unintended harm. Animation still absolutely can have a positive impact on our UX efforts, but it’s up to us to make sure we use it responsibly, just like we try to use our other design tools responsibly.” (Val Head, Smashing Magazine)

While most modern operating systems and browsers have included reduced motion settings for some time now, Android 13 takes it a step further by being able to toggle all animations off at once, located under the conveniently labeled “Color and motion” feature of the Accessibility settings. This makes it easy for users to quickly turn off (and back on) animations as needed, which can be especially helpful for those with only temporary motion sensitivity.

Figure Caption: The Remove animations feature shown being toggled on and off under the “Color and motion” section of Android’s accessibility settings.

What Reduced Motion means for accessibility

As much as we love to include fun and engaging animations on our websites and mobile apps, it’s important for us to be considerate of those who may find these animations distracting at best, and harmful at worst. Animations like parallax (where background elements scroll at a different speed than foreground elements to create a perception of depth) and scrolljacking (where the scroll wheel does something other than how we naturally expect to scroll up and down a page) can be especially triggering.

But this doesn’t mean we have to remove animations altogether.

As designers, we need to ensure that the animations we include in our content don’t interfere with users who are sensitive to certain types of motion. When designing content, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the animation I’m including purposeful, or is it just there for decoration?
  • Is it easy to predict when an unexpected motion might occur?
  • Am I providing controls to limit extraneous motion or turn animations on or off?
  • Am I providing content to users in a way that they can understand it even without animations?

Check out more work from Val Head to learn more about creating a safer and more inclusive digital experience of users with motion sensitivity:

Other great reads on motion and designing for users with motion sensitivity:

And please join us in the next Tools of the Trade segment as we look at another great accessibility feature of Android 13: “Colors and Themes”.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 22, 2023 03:53 PM
Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2023 05:25 PM
Doug Flower