Chapter 1. Introducing VoiceOver

This chapter introduces VoiceOver, the advanced screen-reading technology integrated into the Mac OS X operating system. VoiceOver enables users with visual disabilities to control their computer using a rich set of keyboard commands and gestures. This chapter provides an overview of VoiceOver and key topics such as the VoiceOver cursor and current focus, keyboard shortcuts, and using function keys on some keyboards.

About VoiceOver

VoiceOver is a built-in screen reader that describes aloud what appears on your computer screen: it speaks the text that’s in documents and windows. To turn on VoiceOver, press Command-F5.

When a supported refreshable braille display is connected to your computer, VoiceOver detects the display and sends it information about what’s on the screen using contracted or uncontracted braille. If you’re using a Multi-Touch trackpad, you can use VoiceOver gestures to navigate and interact with what’s on the screen. Using VoiceOver, you control the computer primarily with a keyboard, braille display, or trackpad, instead of the mouse.

When VoiceOver is on, you can use VoiceOver commands to navigate and interact with items on the screen. You enter VoiceOver commands by holding down the Control and Option keys together, along with one or more other keys. The Control and Option keys are called the “VoiceOver keys,” or “VO keys” for short. They are shown in commands as VO, as in VO-F1. You can assign VoiceOver commands to numeric keypad keys, keyboard keys, braille display input keys, and trackpad gestures, so you can use the commands with fewer keystrokes.

You use the VoiceOver cursor to move around the screen and hear descriptions of the items in the cursor. You use it to select buttons and other controls, and to read and edit text. The keyboard focus and mouse pointer work with the VoiceOver cursor in a variety of ways. You can configure them to follow each other, or use them separately to move in different applications at the same time.

The first time you start VoiceOver, you can choose to take the Quick Start tutorial, an interactive tour of VoiceOver navigation and interaction basics. When VoiceOver is on, you can start the tutorial at any time by pressing VO-Command-F8.

You can customize VoiceOver to best suit your needs using VoiceOver Utility.

About the VoiceOver cursor, mouse pointer, and keyboard focus

When you use VoiceOver to move to areas of the screen or within the text in a document, a dark rectangle is drawn around the area where VoiceOver is focused. This rectangle is called the “VoiceOver cursor.”

By default, the keyboard focus and VoiceOver cursor match, so that wherever you move the keyboard focus using standard keyboard navigation (Tab key and arrow keys), the VoiceOver cursor follows. And wherever the VoiceOver cursor goes, the keyboard focus follows (if possible). This is called “cursor tracking.” You can also turn on cursor tracking for the mouse.

When you open a new window, the VoiceOver cursor and the keyboard focus are positioned on the same item. For example, when you open a New Message window in Mail, the VoiceOver cursor and the keyboard focus are positioned on the To field. If you prefer, you can make the initial position of the VoiceOver cursor be on the first item in the window.

You can turn off cursor tracking. For example, you might want to leave the keyboard focus in one place and move the VoiceOver cursor around to read a dialog that just appeared, check email messages, or perform other tasks. If you turn off cursor tracking, you can use VoiceOver commands to move the VoiceOver cursor to where the keyboard is focused when you need to. You can do the same for the mouse.

You set preferences for the initial position of the cursor and for cursor tracking using VoiceOver Utility.

About keyboard shortcuts and VoiceOver

Applications use key combinations as shortcuts to help you work faster. Many shortcuts are common to all Mac OS X applications, such as Command-S for Save and Command-P for Print. You can use these keyboard shortcuts and VoiceOver commands to control actions on your computer. VoiceOver commands always include the VO keys (the Control and Option keys).

When you use VoiceOver to navigate menus, you hear the keyboard shortcut, if there is one, after the name of the menu command. For example, in the File menu, “New, Command N” means that you can use the keyboard shortcut Command-N to create a new file.

Using function keys on some keyboards

Function keys are located above the number keys at the top of the keyboard. On some keyboards, many of the function keys are programmed to perform hardware-related actions such as adjusting volume, muting sound, and controlling display brightness. If your keyboard has an Fn (function) key, you must press the Fn key and the function key together to use the function key for other actions.

If you use VoiceOver all the time or very frequently, you can change the default behavior of the function keys to perform software actions. Then you have to press the Fn key only to change the volume or change other hardware settings.

To change the default behavior of function keys:
  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Keyboard, and then Keyboard.
  2. Select the “Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys” checkbox.

    Now you don’t need to press the Fn key to use VoiceOver commands; you press it only when you want to use the hardware action of a function key.

The command to turn VoiceOver on and off is Command-F5. You don’t need to use the Fn key with this command.

Some keyboards have dedicated keys for Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down. These are important VoiceOver navigation keys. If you’re using a keyboard that doesn’t have these keys, use the arrow keys with the Fn key for these actions.