How to Make the Most of Mac’s Accessibility Features

You might not know it, or you don’t need them, but your Mac comes with a number of accessibility features that help make your computer more accessible when you have a disability. Apple is renowned for building best-in-class assistive technologies across all of its platforms – and the Mac, nearly four decades old, is no exception. In fact, Apple has a knowledge base article about the accessibility features of macOS.

When you explore the Accessibility pane in System Preferences, you’ll see that Apple has organized the system’s accessibility features into various developmental domains: vision, hearing, motor, and general. There’s also an Overview tab where Apple briefly summarizes what Accessibility does for you. “Accessibility features tailor your Mac to your individual needs,” the copy reads. “Your Mac can be customized to support your vision, hearing, physical motor, and learning and literacy needs.” Accessibility features are turned off by default, but you can enable anything you need or want by going to System Preferences. Most are accessible system-wide via a keyboard shortcut.

Let’s examine each category and its features.


Mac’s Vision Options.
Screenshot: Steven Aquino

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

voice over, the award-winning screen reader, is arguably the canonical Apple Accessibility feature: it’s the one most users (and app developers) are most familiar with. As you’d expect from a screen reader, VoiceOver allows people with blindness or low vision to navigate their computer via voice prompts. As you move through the Dock, for example, VoiceOver will say “Button, Mail” as soon as your pointer is over the Mail icon. VoiceOver is also deeply customizable; Users can train it to recognize certain words, and the speed of voice and talk can be varied as desired.

zoom Pretty straightforward: turn it on and the interface is zoomed in. With VoiceOver, zoom can be customized to a great extent – ​​you can choose to scroll with a modifier key (such as the Control or Option key); You can zoom full screen via split-screen, or picture-in-picture; even more.

One notable feature in the Zoom section is hover text, After turning it on, users can hold Command (⌘) while the mouse is hovering over something (hence the name) to show a large-text view of the item. This is especially useful for reading small print in System Preferences, for example. And yes, hover text is easily customizable – you can change the font type and color of the text box to suit your visual needs.

Large text version of small text on page

Hover Text lets you view a larger text version of an item.
Screenshot: Barbara Krasnoff

The other three features under Vision are closely related. show Allows several options for more accessible ways of viewing the screen, such as increasing contrast and decreasing transparency. spoken material Allows you to change the sound and speaking rate of the system’s voice; You also have the option to turn on or off the ability to speak announcements like notifications, items under the pointer, and more. Ultimately, description Lets you turn on audio description for what Apple describes as “visual content in media.”

the hearing

Mac's listening options.

Mac’s listening options.
Screenshot: Steven Aquino

There are three features under this category: Audio, RTT and Caption.

Audio The section is very sparse, only giving the option to flash the screen when alerts come up. Conceptually, it serves the same purpose that the glowing telephone in our house was when I was growing up. Both my parents were completely deaf, so every time the phone rang, a lamp in the living room would flash (in addition to the normal ringing that I could hear) alerting them that the phone was ringing.

RTT, or real-time text, is a mode where people can call deaf and hard of hearing people using TDD devices. TDDs produce a unique sound, so it was easy to know when another TDD user was calling my parents; I would simply put the receiver of the phone on TDD and tell my parents that the call was for them. (Note: Older Macs may not include the RTT feature.)

eventually, caption Allows users to customize the look and feel of system-wide captions to suit their tastes.


Mack's Motor Options.

Mack’s Motor Options.
Screenshot: Steven Aquino

The motor range includes voice control, keyboard, pointer control, and switch control.

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

keyboard Lists several options for configuring the keyboard’s behavior. For example, sticky keys (found in hardware Tab) is helpful for people who can’t hold down the modifier keys to perform keyboard shortcuts. pointer control is similar to keyboard in that it allows customization for the behavior of the pointer; its Alternative Control Methods The tab helps you enable many useful options. For example, Enable Optional Pointer Actions lets you control your pointer with a separate switch or facial expression, while enable head pointer Lets you use head movement. switch control, like voice control, allows hands-free operation of one’s computer using external buttons called switches. Apple sells a variety of Mac-compatible switches on its website.


Mac's General Accessibility Items.

Mac’s General Accessibility Items.
Screenshot: Steven Aquino

There are two features in general: Siri and Accessibility Shortcuts.

below Sir, IApple gives users the ability to enable Type to Siri, which allows users — those who are deaf or have speech delays, for example — to interact with Siri in a Messages-style interface.

short road is straight. Using a keyboard shortcut (Option-Command-F5), you get a pop-up menu that lets you invoke any accessibility feature you choose. It is also possible to set up more than one shortcut.

Accessibility Shortcut Menu

Using keyboard shortcuts, you can get a pop-up menu of all the available accessibility features.
Screenshot: Barbara Krasnoff

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

For people with certain cognitive conditions who move between devices, the linearity of the accessibility features on the platform means a more comfortable, consistent experience. A person will know what to expect and how to use certain things, which goes a long way in shaping a positive user experience when jumping from device to device on a regular basis.

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