How to Use Google Assistant’s Action Blocks for Accessibility

Google Action Blocks app icon

Google Assistant makes it easy to perform digital tasks, but it may be inaccessible for those without skillful fingers or a firm voice. With the Action Blocks app for Android, you can transform complex commands with a single numeric key.

What are action blocks?

Action Blocks is an Android app from Google that lets you cut complex smartphone tasks from dozens of different actions at a single tap. Millions of people around the world face a wide range of barriers that prevent them from engaging with the Google Assistant to play YouTube videos or control smart home devices.

To celebrate World Accessibility Awareness Day 2020, Google released action blocks to help connect more people with mild and severe disabilities.

RELATED: New Android Features Focus On Accessibility For All

Google engineer Lorenzo Caggioni first created the predecessor of Action Blocks for his brother, who was unable to use most of the technology due to his disabilities. DIVA project, which is the abbreviation for DIVersely Assisted, uses a Raspberry pie and Google Assistant to give more independence to those who are unable to perform specific tasks on a smartphone.

Developers can use Project DIVA to assign tasks to a physical button, which then performs multiple complex digital tasks at the touch of a button.

diva button

The action blocks use numeric buttons instead of the physical DIVA buttons and provide a user-friendly interface that you will use to organize complex processes with a single press. Just like Google Assistant Routines, these action blocks can perform all the tasks that your virtual assistant is capable of performing.

How to configure action blocks

To get started with Action Blocks, download the app from Google Play Store on your Android device. Make sure you have Google Assistant enabled on your phone.

Once the action blocks are installed, launch the application and press the “How it works” link to find out more about what it can do. Start creating your own number buttons by selecting “Create action block”.

Android action block configuration screen

In the “Create an action block” menu, you can choose from several daily actions such as making phone calls or playing multimedia files. Tap “More Actions” to access additional features such as smart home controls, reminders, calendars, etc.

Select one of these actions to display a template-based action block, or choose “Create custom action” to use an empty action block.

Android action blocks screen Create action block

If you choose a template for a specific action, you will see that the Google Assistant command for that action is already written. Modify the order as you see fit. If you don’t want Google Assistant to announce the action out loud every time this action block is used, make sure the option “Always speak out loud” is not checked.

Use the “Test Action” button to make sure that this command does what you want it to do. Press “Next” at the bottom of the screen when you have finished modifying and testing this command.

Android action blocks What should this action block do

Next, you will want to create a unique name for this action block. From there, select an image to help identify the button in your photo library or Google’s symbol and icon library, or take a new photo with your camera. When you’re ready to continue, tap “Save action block” at the bottom of the screen.

Android action blocks What this action block should look like

Once your action block has been saved, you can automatically place it on your home screen or create other action blocks and place them later.

To place an action block, press it from the main action block screen and select “Place on the home screen”.

Android Action Blocks Place on Home Screen

The action buttons have a default size of 2 × 2 on the screen of your Android smartphone. Press and hold your Action Block widget until four dots mark the perimeter of the block to move or resize it.

Resizing Android action blocks on the Home screen

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