Literacy and Learning
Users with cognitive and learning disabilities can benefit from many built-in features in OS X, including ways to simplify the Finder, provide integrated information reference tools, assist with spelling and grammar, and much more.
Using Parental Controls in System Preferences, the Mac can be configured to provide a greatly simplified experience that may be more appropriate for users with cognitive and learning disabilities. Called Simple Finder, it changes the way the Mac works to make it easier to control and use. For example, the Dock contains only three folders: one for applications, one for your documents and one for items you want to share. You can limit the list of applications that a user can open to those you choose. Simple Finder users only need to click an item, not double-click, to open it. Files, folders and applications are all displayed in a single window with icons neatly arranged so there’s never any confusion or clutter. You can even set weekday, weekend and “work time” limits for using the computer to assist those who aren’t able to manage their own schedules. Using Parental Controls with different user accounts, you can provide the Simple Finder experience to those who need it and still provide access to the full capabilities of the Mac to others using the same computer.
Spotlight is a lightning-fast search technology built into OS X that makes it easy to find what you’re looking for, even if you don’t know where to look. It’s conveniently available in the OS X menu bar and via the keyboard shortcut, Command-Space bar. The Spotlight search field gives you instant results as you start typing, encompassing not only files, folders and documents but also messages in Mail, contacts in Address Book, iCal calendars, items in System Preferences, applications and even dictionary definitions. Spotlight searches aren’t confined to your computer — you can also search other computers on the network.
To simplify getting started using the computer each day, you can set up your Mac to automatically open applications you use often, like Mail and Safari, each time you log in so they’re ready immediately.
Assignable Window Backgrounds
For those who have difficulty reading, colours and photos can be used to assist in identifying and differentiating documents and folders. You can assign a colour background to the name of a file or folder label to make it easier to find and identify, and you can assign a colour to the background of a window so it stands out from the others. You can even assign photos and drawings to the background of a window, providing for easier identification. The photo or drawing can contain text directions that show what to put or find in the folder.
Built-in Dictionary and Thesaurus
OS X includes a powerful, system-wide Dictionary application containing the New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Apple Dictionary and access to the Internet-based encyclopaedia called Wikipedia. The New Oxford American Dictionary includes references for grammar, spelling and pronunciation, and reference materials such as the chemical elements, weights and measures, and conversions.
The Dictionary application also includes an industry-leading Japanese dictionary and thesaurus provided by Shogakukan. The dictionary contains over 200,000 words with rich descriptions and examples, and the thesaurus contains 25,000 words covering 6,000 categories. Using Dictionary, you can even translate English to Japanese and vice versa. Use the Preferences window in Dictionary to activate and deactivate the Japanese-English dictionaries.
There are several convenient ways to access these resources:
- You can open the Dictionary application and type in a word to view a definition and choose additional sources to reference such as the thesaurus, Apple Dictionary, and Wikipedia. You can also click a word in the definition to find its definition without having to type it.
- While typing and reading, click a word and press Command-Control-D to open a dictionary window in the application containing the word’s definition. With the pop-up window open, you can view the definition of other words just by moving the mouse while holding down the Command and Control keys.
- If you prefer, you can right-click or Control-click a selected word to view its definition. Based on a setting you choose in the Dictionary application, the definition will appear in Dictionary or in a pop-up window.
Spelling and Grammar Checking
Apple provides a simple but powerful spelling and grammar checker in OS X. You only have to learn it once, it’s available everywhere, and application developers don’t have to develop their own. When you add a new word to the spelling and grammar dictionary in one application, it’s automatically available to the others using the same universal dictionary. Best of all, spelling and grammar checking works the same in every application. Learn it once. Use it everywhere.
OS X also includes automatic word completion. To improve efficiency and help learn new words, you can have OS X suggest words for you after typing just a few letters. Simply press the Escape key and you’ll see a list of words beginning with the characters you typed. Double-click a word to have OS X type it for you and complete the word.
Text to Speech
OS X comes with more than 20 male, female, and novelty voices, including the extraordinary Alex, a voice so natural that he even breathes when speaking long passages. Using Text to Speech (TTS), you can have Alex and other Mac voices speak selected text so you can hear a word as you see it onscreen. You can adjust the speaking rate to slow things down, and speed them up to adapt to the listener’s abilities. Apple TTS voices work with all applications that support the OS X Speech engine, including Mail, Safari, iChat, TextEdit, and many more. The voices included in OS X speak in English, but voices in additional languages are available separately.
Convert Text to a Spoken Track in iTunes
Using a feature called Services in OS X, you can save Text to Speech output as a track in iTunes so you can play it again later, burn it to a CD, put it into a playlist, and much more. You’ll find Services in an application’s main menu (the TextEdit menu for TextEdit, the Safari menu for Safari, and so on). To enable it, choose Services Preferences, then check the box next to “Add to iTunes as a spoken track.”
Calculator for Maths and Conversions
OS X includes a calculator application that’s three calculators in one. It can perform basic, scientific, and programming functions and common conversions such as speed, length, volume, weight, pressure — even currency. You can also have the calculator speak the names of buttons as they are pressed and tell you the results of calculations. There’s even a “paper tape” window that records each calculation so you can review your work and keep a record of the results.
In addition to the standard calculator, OS X includes Grapher, a full-featured graphing calculator that enables real-time analysis and visualization of even the most complex mathematical equations. It can display graphs in two and three dimensions and can overlay the graphs for multiple equations on top of each other for comparison. You can view 3D graphs from any angle and even “spin” a graph using the mouse. Animations created with Grapher can be saved and exported as QuickTime files for viewing in other applications.
iChat is an Internet-based text, audio, and video conferencing application that lets you converse and work with others even when you’re miles or continents apart. You can use iChat to view documents remotely and transmit documents between participants. Thanks to iChat screen sharing, you and a chat buddy can observe and control a single desktop, so you can easily collaborate with a colleague, browse the web with a friend, and more. You can share your own desktop or your buddy’s — you have control at all times. iChat initiates an audio chat when you start a screen sharing session, so you can talk things through while you’re working. iChat is compatible with AIM (the largest instant messaging community in the U.S.), Google Talk, and Jabber and supports text, audio, and video. You can interact with chat buddies on a Mac or a Windows PC.
Make video calls from your Mac to iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch, or other Intel-based Mac users. Now you and your class-project partner can easily share the visual aids for your presentation, face to face.
Using QuickTime X in OS X and the built-in microphone and video camera or compatible device on your Mac, you can record video, audio, and even the Mac screen to share with others. Recordings can be used for simple communication, for presentations, or to record and demonstrate learning improvement and skill progression.