How to get the most out of your Mac's accessibility features

How to get the most out of your Mac’s accessibility features

You may not know it, or you may not need it, but your Mac comes with a host of accessibility features that help make your computer more accessible if you have disabilities. Apple is known for building best-in-class assistive technology across all of its platforms — and the Mac, which is nearly four decades old, is no exception. In fact, Apple has a knowledge base article that is all about accessibility features in macOS.

When you explore the Accessibility pane in System Preferences, you’ll notice that Apple has organized the system’s accessibility features across various developmental areas: vision, hearing, engine, and general. There’s also an overview tab where Apple briefly summarizes what accessibility does for you. The copy reads “Accessibility features adapt your Mac to your individual needs.” “Your Mac can be customized to support your vision, hearing, physical movement, learning and literacy requirements.” Accessibility features are turned off by default, but you can visit System Preferences to enable anything you need or want. Most of them can be accessed at the system level via a keyboard shortcut.

Let’s examine each category and its characteristics.

Note: This article was written using macOS Monterey; The Ventura version of the operating system was still in beta at the time.

Vision

Mac vision options.
Screenshot: Stephen Aquino

Under the Vision category, Apple lists VoiceOver, Zoom, Display, Spoken Content, and Descriptions.

Voice OverThe award-winning screen reader is arguably Apple’s primary accessibility feature. It’s the most users (and app developers) familiar with. As you’d expect from a screen reader, VoiceOver lets people who are blind and visually impaired navigate their computers with voice prompts. As you move through the Dock, for example, VoiceOver will say “Button, Mail” as your cursor hovers over the Mail icon. VoiceOver is highly customizable as well; Users can train it to recognize certain words, and the speed of voice and speaking can be changed at will.

Zoom Clear and straightforward: turn it on and the interface will be enlarged. As with VoiceOver, Zoom is highly customizable – you can choose to scroll with a mod key (such as the Control key or the Option key). You can zoom in/out full screen via split screen, picture-in-picture and more.

One of the notable features in the Zoom section is hover text. After running it, users can press Command (⌘) while hovering the mouse over something (hence the name) to bring up a large text display of the item. This is particularly useful for reading small print in System Preferences, for example. And yes, Hover Text is easily customizable – you can change the font type and text box colors to suit your visual needs.

Large text version of smaller text on the page

Hover text lets you display a large text version of an item.
Screen capture: Barbara Krasnov

The other three features within the vision are closely interrelated. Show It allows a large number of options for more intuitive ways to display the screen, such as increasing contrast and decreasing transparency. spoken content Allows you to change the volume and speaking rate of the system audio; You also have the option to toggle on or off the ability to speak ads such as notifications, items under the cursor, and more. finally, Descriptions Lets you play audio descriptions of what Apple describes as “visual content in media.”

he heard

Mac session options.

Mac session options.
Screenshot: Stephen Aquino

There are three features under this category: audio, RTT, and annotations.

tea My voice The section is very sparse, and only gives the option to flash the screen when the alert comes. Conceptually, this serves the same purpose as the flashing phone we had in our house when I was growing up. My parents were completely deaf, so every time the phone rings, a lamp in the living room flashes (in addition to the usual ring I hear), alerting them that the phone was ringing.

RTT, or real-time text messaging, is a mode in which people can communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people who use a TDD device. TDDs make a unique sound, so it was easy to see when another TDD user called my dad; I would simply put the phone receiver on TDD and tell my parents that the call was for them. (Note: Older Macs may not include RTT.)

finally, Captions It allows users to customize the look and style of captions system-wide to suit their tastes.

engine

Mac drive options.

Mac drive options.
Screenshot: Stephen Aquino

The motor class includes voice control, keyboard, cursor control, and switch control.

voice control, introduced with much fanfare in macOS Catalina at WWDC 2019, lets you control your entire Mac with just your voice, a liberating command for those who can’t use traditional input methods like a mouse and keyboard. You can choose to enable or disable specific verbal commands and even add specific vocabulary that you prefer to use.

keyboard Lists a large number of options for configuring how the keyboard behaves. for example, Installed keys (found in hardware tab) is useful for those who cannot hold down modifier keys to perform keyboard shortcuts. point control It is similar to a keyboard insofar as it allows for customization of how the cursor behaves; that it Alternate control methods The tab helps you enable many useful options. for example, Activate alternate pointer actions Allows you to control the cursor using a separate key or a facial expression, while Enable head pointer Allows you to use head movement. control keyLike Voice Control, it allows the computer to be operated hands-free using external buttons called keys. Apple sells a variety of Mac-compatible switches on its website.

general

Mac general accessibility items.

Mac general accessibility items.
Screenshot: Stephen Aquino

The year consists of two features: Siri and the Accessibility Shortcut.

under siriApple gives users the ability to enable Type to Siri, allowing users — who are deaf or have a speech delay, for example — to interact with Siri in a message-style interface.

abbreviation clear and direct. With the keyboard shortcut (Option-Command-F5), you get a popup that lets you invoke any accessibility feature you choose. It is also possible to set more than one shortcut.

Access Shortcuts List

With a keyboard shortcut, you can have a popup of all the available accessibility features.
Screen capture: Barbara Krasnov

One of the important things to note about all the accessibility features of macOS is their place in the broader Apple ecosystem. Most are available on one (or more) of Apple’s other platforms, such as iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS. This is notable from an accessibility perspective because of its consistency.

For those with certain cognitive conditions and switching devices, the linearity of cross-platform accessibility features means a more comfortable and consistent experience. A person will know what to expect and how to use certain things, which goes a long way in forming a positive user experience when regularly jumping from device to device.

Update July 11, 2022 at 3:15 PM ET: Updated to add a note that this was written about macOS Monterey.

#Macs #accessibility #features

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