“To Mac or Not to Mac:” VoiceOver Accessibility

May 2013
By Mario Eiland, Assistive Technology (AT) Specialist

Apple has incorporated a screen magnification application called Zoom and a screen reader called VoiceOver.

Zoom is quite useful for people who still have some residual vision and like to use a Mac.  They are able to zoom on areas of the screen that they need to see and most people do like it and find it easy to operate.

However, those of us who have no vision at all have the option of using VoiceOver. VoiceOver is a full-blown screen reader already included on Mac, which allows us to use a Mac without having to purchase a third-party screen reader such as JAWS or Window-Eyes.

Since Apple embedded these tools in their operating system, they can also be found on other Apple devices such as the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, etc. As a result, when taken out of the package VoiceOver is already in the product and one does not have to wait for sighted assistance to set it up! Furthermore, reinstalling or upgrading the operating system can also be done independently. When reinstalling or starting the Mac for the first time, if VoiceOver is not on, after 30 seconds or so, the operating system assumes that you might need assistance and it will announce that Mac Operating System (OS) includes a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver.  Then, you can press "Command + F5" to turn on the screen reader and set up your system. Consequently,  in having these tools being included in the MAC OS, one can walk up to any MAC OS machine and with just a few key strokes you can access that computer. For example, simply pressing "Option + Command + 8" will launch the Zoom screen-magnification program.

In circles of the Mac environment, you will hear people talk about the VoiceOver (VO) keys and that to navigate one must press a combination of "VO + (some key)." The VO key is really a combination of the "Ctrl" and the "Option" key. So, to navigate from one item to another one would press "VO + Left Arrow" or "VO + Right Arrow."

The VoiceOver screen reader has always been in development and Apple has always been making improvements to it. With the most recent version they have added ways to adjust settings so that they’re more application specific, which in the Mac environment are referred to as "Activities." Another nice feature that the Mac OS has added is the ability to use a touch pad as if you were navigating an iPhone or iPad. This can facilitate navigation for those of us who do not know all the keyboarding strokes for VoiceOver. For those of us who are familiar with the refreshable braille display family, VoiceOver supports around 40 types of the most popular refreshable braille displays. Those refreshable braille displays that support Bluetooth can also be used with IOS devices such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

Apple has made it easy for those of us who are not familiar with how to navigate in its environment by having added a tutorial that one can access by pressing "Ctrl + Option + Command + F8."

In summary, when considering the Mac OS, as a user who is blind or has low vision, there are the advantages of having embedded accessibility, the ability to set up the machine independently, and, if one has no clue as to how to begin with VoiceOver, an easy-to-use tutorial. However, as with everything there are some limitations. VoiceOver does not have scripting capabilities, so customizing applications that might not be accessible does not exist in this environment. One example, would be "Microsoft Office for Mac." There are some equivalent applications, but sometimes, specifically when sharing documents across platforms, formatting might get lost.

If you are interested in checking out more information on the Mac OS and its accessibility tools, visit Apple or go to any search engine and search for "Apple accessibility."

Happy Apple Learning!

In the AT Scoop, Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) does not intend to endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services. All opinions expressed in this article and in the AT Scoop are those of the individual authors. The views and opinions of authors expressed on DSB's website do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Government, and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.

For more information on Assistive Technology, email us at info@dsb.wa.gov.