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How to use Mac’s VoiceOver screen reader

While universal screen readers like NVDA and JAWS are commonly used to understand and navigate websites or apps, Mac users have an additional option called VoiceOver. VoiceOver is built into MacOS and designed to support accessibility features that are particularly Apple-friendly and highly customizable. This includes everything from adjusting your keyboard focus settings to attaching a refreshing braille display.

Here we’ll go through the steps to set up and turn on VoiceOver, along with the other important information you should know when you’re first getting started.

How to start using VoiceOver

Step 1: First, go to VoiceOver Utility to make sure everything is set up the way you or the visually impaired user prefers. Open system settings and go to Accessibility. Here is an option for voiceover. Select in this option Open VoiceOver Utility. If you need a screen reader to use menus like this one, skip to step 2 to turn on VoiceOver first.

This will open a new window. The menu on the left offers a variety of options for VoiceOver settings. You might want to check each category, though speech and navigation are particularly important stops. Braille allows you to set up VoiceOver for a braille device, and activities allows you to customize certain commands once you’re comfortable with VoiceOver. Make sure all settings are what you want.

You can visit them utility again to tweak things as you progress, especially when it comes to screen reader speed and other settings.

The navigation menu in VoiceOver Utility.

Step 2: Now let’s turn on VoiceOver. Press command + F5 at any time to turn on VoiceOver. This will open a new window and indicate that VoiceOver has been enabled. If this is your first time, it’s a really good idea to make a choice Learn more, which walks you through a tutorial covering VoiceOver basics, key sound indicators, and the commands you can use. Note that the command + F5 The option is referred to as “VO” in Apple’s keyboard shortcuts.

If you want to use the screen reader, press the v button or select Use VoiceOver.

The VoiceOver activation popup.

Step 3: VoiceOver immediately begins reading the currently selected document, webpage, or app. You can choose a different window if you want the screen reader to read something else. This is done using the VoiceOver cursor, a focus window that shows where VoiceOver is currently reading. Whenever you move your cursor, your keyboard focus moves as well, allowing you to type faster keyboard commands once you find the option you want. You can also use the navigation VoiceOver Utility section to enable mouse control of the VoiceOver cursor if you want to use both a mouse and keyboard shortcuts.

You can also prevent the keyboard focus from always following the cursor, for example typing in one app while checking email in another app, and so on.

Step 4: You can pause the screen reader at any time by tapping control Key. Press control again when you are ready to continue the speech. If you missed something, you can press VO + Z and the screen reader repeats the last sentence.

Step 5: When you start using VoiceOver, read the commanders Section of VoiceOver Utility. Here you’ll find a series of shortcuts to help you navigate MacOS, with sections for the number pad, keyboard, and quick navigation. That keyboard In the section you can enable commands like using the S key to open Safari and also add your own commands. The built in numeric keypad Commands, meanwhile, allow for quick navigation and interaction in apps that don’t require letter key commands. All conventional keyboard shortcuts, e.g command + S saving will still work with VoiceOver.

Number commands for VoiceOver in VoiceOver Utility.

Step 6: You can also open a commands you can search for a specific command at any time by pressing VO + Hwhich then opens the help menu H again to open the commands. The command menu will automatically look for a command based on what you type, so you can then type something like “open mail” to get the results.

Step 7: VoiceOver also supports item descriptions. When the VoiceOver cursor is over an item, you can press VO + F3 and the description begins. To hear help tags associated with the item, press VO + change + H.

Step 8: VoiceOver can do a lot more, but this should get you started and give you the tools to keep learning. Apple provides additional suggestions and a guide to braille commands.

Thinking about using VoiceOver on a new Mac? You might also want to check out our guide to the best MacBooks to buy right now.

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