VoiceOver in Depth
VoiceOver in OS X
OS X includes VoiceOver 3. A thoroughly updated release of Apple’s screen-access technology, VoiceOver 3 includes groundbreaking new features such as gesture support, braille display mirroring, web spots, and spoken hints. It also offers frequently requested features including autospeaking web pages, “read all,” web page summary, web table support, user-created labels, customizable verbosity, and more.
Go to the Getting Started Guide
VoiceOver in Action
Enable VoiceOver, a powerful screen reading technology, using simple trackpad gestures and keyboard commands.
Using a Mac with a Multi-Touch trackpad, you can control your computer with VoiceOver using simple gestures like tap and flick — the same gestures you use to control VoiceOver on the iPhone. These gestures are easy to learn, so even if you’ve never used a computer before, you can get started quickly.
To use gestures, just drag a finger or two around the touch-sensitive trackpad to hear a spoken description of the item under your finger. You’ll hear spoken descriptions continuously as you move. Or flick left or right with one finger to move the VoiceOver cursor to the next or previous item and hear a spoken description. By dragging, you can hear how items are arranged on the screen, since they correspond to the location you’re touching on the trackpad. The more you drag, the more information you gather.
VoiceOver provides visual references to enable blind and sighted users to work together on the same computer at the same time. A VoiceOver cursor marks the currently described item, and when the user drags a finger across the trackpad, VoiceOver dims the portion of the screen that’s not mapped to the trackpad. This makes it easier for sighted users to follow what’s happening onscreen. The dimming effect is adjustable — you can increase and decrease the contrast to make it easier to see or turn it off altogether.
VoiceOver lets you control your Mac using trackpad gestures — even if you can’t see the screen.
VoiceOver gestures are forgiving. For example, touching or dragging on the trackpad with one finger speaks descriptions but doesn’t change the state of the computer. And, since the VoiceOver cursor continuously marks the currently selected item, you can perform a gesture like a flick or double-tap anywhere on the trackpad. If you have trouble locating a particular item, you can touch something near it, then flick left or right to move one item at a time until you find it. When you drag your finger across the trackpad, the trackpad represents the window or application you’re working in, not the entire screen. This way you won’t accidentally switch applications without realizing it, and you won’t confuse items you hear in one application with items you hear in another.
Rotate your fingers on the trackpad for quick access to VoiceOver commands and navigation tools.
VoiceOver features a unique new virtual control called a “rotor” that mimics a physical dial. You use the rotor to change VoiceOver settings and access commands and other features. Just rotate two fingers on the trackpad as if you were turning a dial. As you turn the rotor, you’ll hear each of its settings. Flick up and down to choose the setting. For example, when you’re typing, turn the rotor to hear settings like “word” or “character.” Then flick up and down on the trackpad to choose how you want to move through the document — by word or character. Similarly, you can use the rotor to quickly navigate web pages. When you’re on a web page, the rotor contains items commonly found on a web page such as headers, links, tables, and images. Turn the rotor to the desired item, then flick up and down to move to the previous or next occurrence of that type of item. The rotor gives you access to an array of commands without requiring you to learn new gestures. Just turn the rotor to hear what’s available, then flick up and down to choose.
VoiceOver includes a simple set of standard gestures you can use to navigate, switch windows and applications, use menu items, and access the Dock. In addition to the standard gestures, you can assign VoiceOver commands, files, applications, utilities, even AppleScript scripts and Automator workflows to an extended list of predefined gestures. Assignable gestures use a modifier key such as Shift, Control, Option, or Command and enable you to expand your capabilities as well as addressing the needs of those with limited dexterity.
QuickNav makes it easy to control VoiceOver using the arrow keys on your keyboard.
For keyboard users, VoiceOver 3 introduces Quick Nav, which enables you to navigate and access the rotor using just one hand. Toggle Quick Nav on and off by pressing the Left Arrow and Right Arrow keys together, then use the arrow keys separately to move the VoiceOver cursor to navigate and interact with the computer. To access the rotor, press the Left Arrow or Right Arrow and Up Arrow keys together. This lets you quickly adjust the rotor to select settings like headers, tables, and web spots for a web page. Like a flick gesture, pressing the Up Arrow or Down Arrow key jumps to the next or previous item. So if the rotor is set to “links,” pressing the Up Arrow or Down Arrow key jumps to the previous or next link on the page. Click links by pressing the Up Arrow and Down Arrow keys together. Using Quick Nav, you can navigate your computer and read even the most complicated web pages quickly.
USB and Bluetooth Braille Displays
Every Mac includes built-in support for over 40 of the most popular USB and Bluetooth braille displays, including those from HumanWare, GW Micro, Freedom Scientific, Handy Tech, Baum, Alva, APH, Eurobraille, and Nippon Telesoft. Since the software is built in, when you connect a braille display to your Mac, VoiceOver automatically recognizes the model in use and programs the keys — including “wiz wheels,” scrollers, router keys, and buttons — to best suit each model’s characteristics. This built-in intelligence lets you immediately move the VoiceOver cursor using a unit’s panning, router, or other navigation and selection keys. Learn more about supported braille displays
If the braille display is new to you, you can easily learn how the keys are programmed using VoiceOver Keyboard Help (Control-Option-K). Just press a key on the braille display to hear its name. You can also reassign input keys. Simply choose a VoiceOver command and hold down the keys on the braille display. VoiceOver plays a pulsing sound for a second or two as it programs the keys, then chimes when it’s done.
Using Braille Displays
Learn how to connect a braille display to your Mac and customize its settings. .
The Braille Panel
Visuals of Collaboration
Use VoiceOver with visual cues to collaborate with sighted users on your Mac.
To assist sighted users such as teachers, parents, and coworkers who work side by side with braille users at school, at home, and in the office, VoiceOver includes an onscreen braille panel that displays both braille and a plain text translation of the descriptions being spoken by VoiceOver. In OS X, the braille panel appears automatically when a physical braille display is detected, and you can display it on demand even when a braille device is not available. The updated braille panel is easier to read, and you can assign six different text colors for greater contrast or to better suit those with color sensitivity.
Braille Display Mirroring
To create new opportunities for learning and collaboration, OS X introduces a new feature in VoiceOver called “braille mirroring” that enables you to connect up to 32 USB braille displays (or one Bluetooth display and up to 31 USB braille displays) simultaneously to a single Mac. With braille mirroring, multiple braille users can work together on the same computer without having to share the same braille display; deaf and blind users can collaborate together on the same computer at the same time; and students using braille can follow what the teacher is demonstrating to their sighted classmates.
The braille displays connected to the Mac don’t have to be the same model or come from the same vendor. They don’t even have to have the same number of braille cells. Students using braille displays smaller than 80 cells can independently use the built-in panning controls on their braille display to read an entire line of braille without affecting other devices attached to the computer. Likewise, braille input keys are only accepted from a primary braille display you select, so one braille device won’t interfere with another or with the computer that’s driving them.
International braille tables
OS X includes built-in support for more than 80 new braille tables supporting a wide range of languages.
VoiceOver has taken a quantum leap forward in its ability to navigate the web, providing dramatic performance improvements, new commands for greater control, improved compatibility, and support for emerging accessibility standards.
Autoread Web Pages
VoiceOver not only includes new ways to browse the web, it can also begin reading a web page as soon as it loads. Increase or decrease the speaking rate while VoiceOver is talking, pause and continue, or stop and navigate the page on your own. Open one or more pages and use the new Read All command to begin reading the web page from the top or from the current VoiceOver cursor position.
Web Page Summary
When you visit a web page you’re not already familiar with, VoiceOver can provide an overview of its contents automatically, or on demand using a keyboard shortcut. This way you can quickly get a sense for the size and complexity of the page and the types of elements it contains. The summary provides statistics about the page, including the title of the page and the number of tables, headers, links, visited links, nonvisited links, form elements, and more. On a typical web page, for example, VoiceOver might read “Page has 12 headers, 92 links, 2 tables, 11 auto web spots, 4 visited links.” You can also tailor the summary so you hear only the statistics you’re most interested in.
Web Table Support
VoiceOver provides full, native support for HTML-based tables, without the need for an additional Table or Forms mode. Simply navigate a table using the same commands you use to navigate other elements on the page. As you navigate each table cell, VoiceOver speaks the column heading and cell contents, followed by the row and column numbers, such as “row three, column one.”
Some web developers use HTML tables to visually arrange items on web pages. These pages often appear to have more tables than they actually do. VoiceOver gives you the option to treat labeled tables as a single element, so you can navigate through them with a single keystroke when skimming a page. When you find one that interests you, just stop on it to explore its contents.
Web Item Rotor
The Link Chooser in OS X is incorporated into a new Web Item rotor. This rotor is a virtual dial you can use to quickly navigate web pages. The rotor contains common HTML tags like header, link, visited link, nonvisited link, form element, table, frame, and image. Select the item you’re looking for in the Web Item rotor, then use a simple keystroke or trackpad gesture to move to each occurrence of that item on the page. So, for example, you can jump from link to link, header to header, or table to table to find what interests you.
Unfortunately, many web pages do not follow accessibility guidelines, are not well structured, or do not use standard HTML correctly, making them difficult to navigate with a screen reader. To overcome this hurdle, Apple patented new technologies available only in VoiceOver that comprehend and interpret the complex visual relationships on a web page. VoiceOver uses this information to create and assign virtual tags called web spots that mark important locations on the page, based on its visual design, to identify items of interest and make the page easier to navigate.
Using a menu, a keystroke, or a gesture, you can jump directly to a web spot to hear the beginning of an interesting article or element on a web page. Web spots mark locations, not items on a page. So if there’s place on a web page that always contains the latest sports scores, jumping to that web spot will give you the latest scores, even when the scores change.
Web spots reflect how a sighted user might visually scan a page to identify articles and other items that are interesting to read. They’re created automatically in the background each time a page loads. You won’t even notice. But they’re always available when you need them, and you can even assign your own custom web spots to a page.
If there’s a particular location on a page you like to visit — to get the weather report or read an article by your favorite columnist — you can make it a “sweet spot.” The sweet spot always appears at the top of the web spots menu, and when the web page loads, VoiceOver goes there first.
Some applications that are otherwise compatible with VoiceOver may have items without labels, so VoiceOver can only describe them in vague terms like “blank,” “empty,” and “button.” Or perhaps an item has a label but you prefer a different one. Using VoiceOver, you can assign your own labels to just about any item. The next time you visit that item, VoiceOver describes it using your label. Add as many labels as you like, and even export your labels to a file that can be shared with other VoiceOver users.
There are three verbosity levels in VoiceOver that you can use to tailor how much information you hear: High, Medium, and Low. VoiceOver begins with High verbosity to provide new users with as much information as possible while learning. Once you become more familiar with the Mac, you may prefer to use a lower setting.
Each setting is completely customizable. You have control over more than 30 spoken elements in each verbosity level, including checkboxes, menus, and buttons. For each element, you can set the verbosity to high, medium, or low, or turn VoiceOver off completely. You can even rearrange the order in which items are described. For example, you can hear “checkbox, checked” instead of “checked checkbox.” When you’re done, you can export your verbosity settings to a file that you can share with other VoiceOver users or take them with you using VoiceOver portable preferences.
VoiceOver features three “commanders” you can use to customize VoiceOver keyboard shortcuts and gestures. They are the NumPad Commander, Keyboard Commander, and Trackpad Commander. Using commanders, you can assign keys and gestures to open an application, utility, or file, run an AppleScript script or Automator workflow, or perform a VoiceOver command. Commanders can help those with physical and learning disabilities by simplifying complex multikey shortcuts and making commands easier to reach and enter.
The NumPad Commander takes advantage of the numeric keypad on a full-size keyboard, providing an alternative for entering the VoiceOver commands you use most often. Using modifier keys such as Shift, Command, Control, and Option, you can access up to six “layers” of key commands. To get you started, five of the six NumPad Commander layers are preprogrammed. Each layer controls web, tables, size and positioning of objects, general navigation, and search — virtually the entire VoiceOver command set — enabling you to operate VoiceOver using fewer keystrokes and just one hand. You can use these predefined keys or change them to suit your needs.
The Keyboard Commander controls the main keyboard. It enables you to assign a VoiceOver command, application, utility, file, AppleScript script, or Automator workflow to an Option-key combination you choose. The Keyboard Commander can be used instead of or in addition to the NumPad Commander and is particularly useful when your keyboard doesn’t include a numeric keypad.
Standard VoiceOver gestures are easy to use, but if you have difficulty entering certain gestures, or if you want to expand the number of commands you can enter using gestures, you can assign new ones from a predefined list using the Trackpad Commander. Enter these gestures using a modifier key such as Shift, Control, Option, or Command.
AppleScript and Automator Integration
OS X includes scripting technologies called AppleScript and Automator that enable you to work with applications installed on your computer using English-like scripts, instead of controlling them using a mouse and keyboard. Scripts can save you time and eliminate mistakes by automating complex and repetitive tasks. With VoiceOver, you run AppleScript scripts and Automator workflows just by pressing a key. VoiceOver itself can be controlled using scripts you create.
Learn more about AppleScript and Automator
Saving and Sharing Preferences
VoiceOver includes a utility you can use to tune its behavior to suit your needs. You can change verbosity, add words to the pronunciation dictionary, change voice characteristics, and much more. When you have things just the way you like them, you can export all or some of your VoiceOver preferences to a file for safekeeping, or give them to a friend to use with VoiceOver.
Because VoiceOver is built into OS X, you don’t always have to take your computer with you to stay connected. If you’ve customized VoiceOver to work a certain way, you can use your VoiceOver preferences with any Mac. VoiceOver makes this easy using a feature called “portable preferences.”
Use Portable Preferences to make VoiceOver work on every Mac the same way it does on your home Mac
Create a VoiceOver portable preferences file on a USB flash drive using VoiceOver Utility, and when you plug the drive into another computer running OS X Snow Leopard or Lion, VoiceOver automatically detects them. VoiceOver works the same way it does on your home Mac, using your custom keystrokes, pronunciations, and more. On OS X, changes you make to VoiceOver settings are continually saved to the portable preferences file, so any changes you make on the road sync back to your home Mac when you plug in the flash drive.
VoiceOver includes English voices and English braille tables for contracted and non-contracted (“computer”) braille. It also includes built-in voices that speak 22 languages: Arabic, English, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French (France), German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish (Spain), Swedish, Turkish, Cantonese, Mandarin (China) and Mandarin (Taiwan). In addition, there are other languages available for download including: Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Romanian, Slovak, and Thai, as well as alternative voices with differing dialects such as English (UK), English (Australia), English (South Africa) and Spanish (Mexico).
Out of the box, VoiceOver works with email, web browsing, word processing, Internet messaging, music, calendaring, and other software. And since VoiceOver is part of OS X, many third-party applications work with VoiceOver. Other applications may require updates from their developers.
To determine if an application you want to use works with VoiceOver, check the list of compatible applications. Since not all compatible applications appear in the list, be sure to check with the developer. Or just try it. Many applications will work, and for others, enhancements or updates may be available from the developer.
Hear the VoiceOver Welcome Message
VoiceOver is unique in that you only need to learn a few commands to get started and can learn more as you go. With just a few commands you can navigate applications, read mail and web pages, and much more. To get started, activate VoiceOver by pressing the Command and F5 keys together. In OS X, you’ll hear a new welcome message inviting you to learn VoiceOver using the Quick Start.
The Quick Start tutorial is the fastest way to learn VoiceOver. It provides a safe environment where you can learn at your own pace and practice your skills as you go. You can access it the first time you start VoiceOver or anytime VoiceOver is running (Control-Option-Command-F8). It’s not necessary to learn everything in one sitting. You can pick up again right where you left off. Quick Start uses the VoiceOver voice, so if you want to learn VoiceOver in a language other than English, just add the appropriate voice to your Mac (available separately).
To help you learn, VoiceOver can automatically speak instructions called “hints” describing how to use the item in the VoiceOver cursor. Hints are spoken only when the cursor remains on an item for more than a few seconds. You can adjust the delay before VoiceOver speaks a hint from zero to ten seconds, and you can change settings to have hints spoken only on demand.
When VoiceOver is running, you’ll have quick access to a variety of help and learning resources. Press Control-Option-H to open VoiceOver Help and discover a variety of help and learning tools:
- VoiceOver online help. Access help topics and related information using a keyword or key phrase search. Hyperlinks help you locate additional information and navigate easily using a browser-like interface. There’s even a “What’s new in VoiceOver” section so you can quickly discover the latest features.
- VoiceOver Commands help. When you know the name of a VoiceOver command but can’t remember the keyboard shortcut, use Commands help. Just type a few letters of the name and VoiceOver lists the commands that match, including their keyboard shortcuts.
- Keyboard help. Press keys on your keyboard to hear their names. Type keyboard shortcuts to hear a description of the VoiceOver command they represent. If you are using a Multi-Touch trackpad, practice entering gestures to refine your technique, and hear the name of the VoiceOver command related to each gesture. Using a braille display? Press a key to hear its name and the VoiceOver command associated with it.
- VoiceOver Sounds help. Learn the meaning for each of the VoiceOver stereo sound effects.
- VoiceOver Quick Start tutorial. Learn new features or practice your skills in a safe environment. If you can’t finish in one sitting, Quick Start remembers where you left off when you come back. Quick Start also speaks your language and uses the voice you select for VoiceOver.
- VoiceOver Getting Started Guide. Use the Getting Started Guide if you prefer a traditional reference manual. This HTML guide is easy to navigate and it’s easy to find related material. You can read it in order from beginning to end or skip around to topics that interest you. The guide is also available in audio and braille formats. Go to the Getting Started Guide