50+ Reasons to Use VoiceOver
If you’re blind or have low vision, you can enjoy the simplicity, security and reliability of the Mac using VoiceOver. It’s built into the Mac OS X operating system that comes with every new Mac and sets a new standard for screen readers in many ways. If you’re considering a Mac, here you’ll find more than 50 great reasons to make the switch.
Universal On/Off Shortcut Key
No matter which Mac or keyboard you use, activating VoiceOver is easy. Just press Command-F5.
VoiceOver is a fully featured screen access technology that rivals even the best screen readers for Windows in capability, customisability, simplicity and reliability.
Nothing to Install
VoiceOver comes installed on every Mac. In fact, it’s built into Mac OS X, so it’s ready to use the very first time you start up a new Mac. To date, Apple has shipped VoiceOver on more than 35 million Mac computers with VoiceOver around the world.
The VoiceOver screen reader is built into Mac OS X so you don’t need to buy it separately. In fact, you can purchase an entire Mac mini computer — which includes VoiceOver and accessible applications such as Mail and web browsing — for less than the retail price of the most popular screen reader software for Windows. And, because VoiceOver is on every new Mac, you don’t need to buy additional copies or licenses.
No Maintenance Fees
Unlike other screen readers, there are no yearly maintenance fees for VoiceOver.
No Registration Keys
With VoiceOver, there are no licence or registration keys to enter, manage or lose. You can get started immediately and you don’t have to worry about getting locked out of your screen reader software.
Immediate Access to the Latest Operating System
Because VoiceOver is built into Mac OS X, you don’t have to wait for updates to get the latest version of VoiceOver. They’re delivered along with Mac OS X software updates and you can begin using them immediately after installation.
The Extraordinary Alex Voice
The only way to use the Alex voice is on a Mac. Alex uses advanced, patented Apple technologies to deliver natural intonation, even at extraordinarily fast speaking rates. He sounds so natural, he even breathes after speaking long passages.
Designed for Collaboration
Unlike most screen readers, which focus only on access for the blind user, VoiceOver is designed with visual references to enable sighted and blind computer users to work together on the same computer at the same time. These visual elements and indicators — like the caption panel, braille panel and VoiceOver cursor — help sighted and low-vision users more easily follow and interact with a blind user when they're using the computer together.
You can see what VoiceOver is saying in the caption panel. Resizable, high-contrast white-on-black captions appear in a floating window that make it easy for blind, sighted and partially sighted users to work together on the same computer at the same time.
VoiceOver is the only screen reader that you can control using gestures that are not only easy to learn, but fun to use. The same gestures are shared by VoiceOver on the iPhone so when you’ve learned to use one product, you can use the other.
Want more? You can extend the set of gestures to create gestures that perform VO commands, launch applications, open files and even run AppleScripts and Automator workflows that you choose. The possibilities for gesture control are almost unlimited.
Instead of memorising a plethora of keyboard commands, you can use the rotor. Just turn the rotor (using a gesture) to hear available commands, then flick up and down to select them. The rotor can also be used to navigate quickly through text documents and web pages. As new commands become available in the rotor, you’ll be able to take advantage of them without having to learn anything new.
Plug-and-Play Support for Refreshable Braille Displays
As soon as you connect a USB or Bluetooth wireless braille display to a Mac, it starts working. There’s no need to install drivers or configure the braille keys. VoiceOver configures them automatically.
Only on a Mac can you connect up to 32 braille displays at the same time so multiple braille users can work together on the same system without sharing the same braille display. Braille mirroring is also uniquely suited to help deaf/blind users collaborate.
The Braille Panel
Through the braille panel, those who don't use braille can collaborate with those who do. An onscreen Braille display, the braille panel provides a visual representation of VoiceOver braille output, complete with plain text translation.
VoiceOver is integrated into Mac OS X and so must meet the same rigorous performance and stability requirements as the operating system itself. They are built together, tested together and delivered together so VoiceOver can deliver the same extraordinary reliability for which Mac OS X is celebrated. To offer an added measure of safety and dependability, Mac OS X monitors VoiceOver to make sure it's running. If VoiceOver unexpectedly stops for any reason, Mac OS X instantly restarts it, so you can continue using the computer.
Built-in, Interactive Tutorial
If you're new to the Mac and VoiceOver, it's easy to get started. The first time you turn on a new Mac or start up VoiceOver, a spoken prompt introduces you to VoiceOver and the built-in VoiceOver Quick Start tutorial. This interactive tutorial teaches you the basics of VoiceOver, so you can get started quickly.
With hints, you’ll never get stuck using VoiceOver. Unsure what to do next? Do nothing! After a few seconds, VoiceOver will automatically speak an instruction, called a hint, that tells you what’s in the VoiceOver cursor and how to use it.
Set Up Your Mac Unassisted
You can begin using VoiceOver even before you set up your Mac. The first time you turn on a new Mac, a voice introduces you to VoiceOver, asking if you’d like to use it to complete setup unassisted. With VoiceOver, you can set the date and time, create a new user account and password, even configure your Mac to access the Internet using a wired or wireless network.
Set up, Install and Upgrade
Mac OS X Using Braille
Because Apple builds support for refreshable Braille displays into Mac OS X, you can use a Braille display even when setting up, installing or upgrading the operating system.
Easy to Learn
Most screen readers require you to learn hundreds of unique keystrokes that change with every application. In contrast, VoiceOver uses only a small set of commands. What’s more, those commands work the same way in every accessible application.
Contextual VoiceOver Menu
When you need it, VoiceOver displays a menu listing all currently available commands. You can use the menu to access help, activate the Quick Start tutorial, choose a command when you can't remember the keystroke or review VoiceOver sound effects and their meanings.
Learn the Mac Keyboard Layout and VoiceOver Commands Safely
Using Keyboard Help, you can press any key to hear its name or type keyboard shortcuts to hear the VoiceOver command they represent. It’s perfectly safe to press the keys — it won't affect the document you're working on or any applications you’re using.
Use the Same Keystrokes on a Notebook and Desktop Computer
Because they’re based on the "home keys", VoiceOver commands work the same, regardless of the Mac (desktop or notebook) you’re using. As a result, you only have to learn them once.
Leverage Your Knowledge of the Mac
Apple specifically designed VoiceOver key commands to work with the Mac keyboard shortcuts you already know and not to conflict with them. As a result, you can take full advantage of the many common Mac keyboard shortcuts, including Command-C (Copy), Command-X (Cut) and Command-V (Paste). And you’ll find that application-specific shortcuts also work with VoiceOver.
Type-to-Select Menu Navigation
While most Mac menu items have keyboard shortcuts, you can also quickly navigate menus and choose menu items simply by typing a few letters. For example, in the Edit menu, you can type U to select Undo, CU to select Cut and CO to select Copy.
Mac OS X comes with a variety of applications that work with VoiceOver, including word processing, email, web browsing, calendaring, Internet messaging software and iTunes software. VoiceOver works with Preview, which lets you read PDFs; QuickTime, which plays movies and other media; Terminal, a UNIX command-line application; various utilities; and System Preferences. You can also use VoiceOver with third-party applications, such as World Book Encyclopedia, Skype, VueScan (OCR), MacJournal, Nisus Writer and Sound Studio.
Enjoy New Applications without Upgrading VoiceOver
With other screen readers, you must often wait for a screen reader update to use new applications. VoiceOver is different. As new applications are updated for accessibility, they start working with VoiceOver immediately. You don’t need to wait for a new version of VoiceOver to use them.
Learn Braille Input Keys Simply by Pressing Them
When you connect a Braille display to your Mac, Mac OS X automatically configures its input keys. If you don’t know them already, you can learn what each braille key does by simply pressing them while using Keyboard Help.
Support for Braille Router, Pan and Input Keys
You can use either a traditional keyboard or the input keys on a Braille display to control VoiceOver. Using the controls on your braille displays, you can pan left to right to read an entire line of braille, regardless of the number of cells provided by your display. You can also use router keys to move the cursor to a particular item, even interacting with that item using only your braille display.
Contracted and Non-Contracted Braille
VoiceOver lets you output American English Braille in standard contracted format or non-contracted “computer braille”. When it’s under the cursor, VoiceOver automatically converts contracted braille, making it easier to edit, then contracts it again when you move the cursor.
Assign Up to Three Braille Status Cells
If your favourite Braille display lacks built-in status cells, VoiceOver lets you assign up to three status cells to help keep you informed. Assign them to the left or right side of your display.
Braille Announcement History
You don’t have to worry about missing an important announcement. VoiceOver maintains a Braille announcement history, so you can go back in time to read what you missed.
Customisable Braille Display Input Keys
It’s easier than ever to customise a Braille display. Just choose a VoiceOver command from a list, then press and hold the Braille display input key to which you want it assigned and wait to hear your Mac sound a tone.
Over 20 English Voices
Mac OS X includes more than 20 additional English male, female and novelty voices, including Alex, the newest and most human-sounding voice ever released. Mac OS X voices employ both concatenative (based on human recordings) and synthesizer (completely created by the computer) technologies.
Foreign Language Ready
VoiceOver is localised in eighteen languages: English, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Portugal and Brazil), Russian, Spanish (Spain) and Swedish.
You can assign any of the installed voices to speak only a particular type of information, such as content, status, element type, attributes or the VoiceOver menu.
There are three simple verbosity levels (high, medium and low) but you also have complete control over more than 30 types of descriptions within each level. You can enable and disable parts of a description and even rearrange the order in which items are described.
Speak Text To The Right Of The Cursor
You may not have realised it, but the cursor isn’t actually under a letter as you type. It’s to the left. The Mac acknowledges this by speaking characters only as the cursor passes over them. This more accurately reflects what’s actually happening on the screen, but for those who prefer it otherwise, there’s an option to speak text to the right of the cursor.
Use the VoiceOver pronunciation dictionary to replace words, change the way VoiceOver pronounces words, and manage abbreviations and special characters, such as smileys :-) and other emoticons. VoiceOver saves these changes along with other preferences, so you can share them with others.
Automatically Speaks Text in Dialogues
When dialogues appear onscreen, VoiceOver automatically speaks them, informing you of their content.
Magnify Contents of the VoiceOver Cursor
In Mac OS X, you can “zoom” the entire screen up to 20x magnification. VoiceOver, meanwhile, allows you to independently magnify the element or contents in its cursor as large as the screen, making it easier for sighted and partially sighted users to see the text as you move the VoiceOver cursor.
Use Tiling Visuals to remove onscreen clutter and other visual distractions. Tiling Visuals dims everything onscreen except the item or element in the VoiceOver cursor, centres that element (making it easy to find) and presents it at full brightness. You also have the option of scaling it up, so it’s even easier to see.
In addition to the standard Mac audio effects, VoiceOver includes more than 30 unique stereo sound effects. Providing useful information as you work, the sound effects let you know when you reach the end of a menu or list, when a web page finishes loading and when you come to a link on a website. Positional cues, meanwhile, provide an enhanced sense of location.
Customise Keystrokes with NumPad Commander
If you have a keyboard with a numeric keypad, you can use it to control VoiceOver using just one hand. The NumPad Commander also provides quick access to your favourite commands by programming each key to perform a VoiceOver function. You can also use it to convert multi-key commands into single-key commands, making them easier to use.
Normally, when you reach the last item in a list or element on a page, VoiceOver stops and plays a sound. If, however, you turn on Cursor Wrapping, VoiceOver loops the cursor back to the beginning. This offers a faster way to return to the top of a list or first element on the page.
Browse Web Pages As They Really Are
Using a Multi-touch trackpad, you can drag your finger around a web page to read it as it really is, not as an off-screen model list or menu. With VoiceOver, you’ll discover a new sense of location, context, size and positioning of elements that you never knew existed.
Fast Web and Page Navigation
With VoiceOver, you can quickly navigate long documents and web pages by jumping to text phrases, key elements (such as headers, tables and links) or text attributes (such as underline, bold, italics and text colour).
Navigate Web Pages by DOM and Group
VoiceOver offers two ways to navigate a web page. Using the Document Object Model or DOM order, you can read web pages from beginning to end. Or you can have VoiceOver group common elements together. This option allows you to reduce the number of items on a web page and quickly scan the page’s content, stopping to read only what interests you.
Most screen readers are lost on web pages that do not follow accessibility guidelines but only VoiceOver features a technology that comprehends and interprets the complex visual relationships on a web page that can create virtual HTML tags called "web spots” that you can use to navigate the page.
If there’s a particular location on a page you visit often, perhaps for the weather report, or to read an article by your favourite 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 will go there first.
VoiceOver lets you create up to ten onscreen “hot spots.” VoiceOver then monitors your Hot Spots, alerts you when changes occur in them and takes you directly to the hot spot, so you can investigate or take action.
If, while VoiceOver is reading text, it encounters a misspelled word, it can notify you with a tone or a spoken description.
Web Item Rotor
Press a key to instantly hear a list of all the hyperlinks on a web page. You can then navigate through the list to select one, or you can type a few letters and have VoiceOver filter the list to include only items that match.
Using the Item Chooser menu, you can navigate to every item in an application window. To navigate more quickly, type a few letters to filter the list. Then press Return to move the VoiceOver cursor to the selected item.
Customise Your Settings
The VoiceOver Utility allows you to customise Voiceover in hundreds of ways to suit your needs; changing verbosity, voices, navigation options, braille settings and much, much more.
Create Multiple Preferences
Once you have VoiceOver set up the way you like, you can export your preferences as a file. By importing the file into another Mac, you can set up that Mac with the identical VoiceOver preferences. You can even share your preferences with other VoiceOver users.
VoiceOver Portable Preferences
VoiceOver lets you create a Portable Preferences file on a flash drive and take it with you. When you connect the flash drive to another Mac running OS X, VoiceOver instantly recognises the preferences file on the flash drive. Using the file, VoiceOver reconfigures the Mac you’re using to perform exactly like your own Mac. When you shut down, it restores the Mac to its previous condition. Changes you make to VoiceOver while you’re on the road are synced back to your home system when you return and plug in the drive.
Restore Mac OS X Unassisted
Every Mac comes with OS X and VoiceOver installed on its hard drive, but you can also install OS X from scratch, unassisted, using VoiceOver. Since OS X Recovery includes VoiceOver, you can start up your Mac in the Recovery HD and use VoiceOver to reinstall OS X, erase the hard drive and restore from a Time Machine backup.
Repair Mac OS X Unassisted
Though it occurs rarely, you may need to perform troubleshooting by starting up your Mac using OS X Recovery. If this ever happens to you, you can start your Mac from OS X Recovery and use VoiceOver unassisted to perform a variety of operations. That includes reformatting and partitioning the hard drive, using Disk First Aid and running a number of other utilities.