The Most of The Mac’s Accessibility Features: How To Make

You may not understand it, or you may not require them, but your Mac has many accessibility features that assist make the computer more accessible if you have disabilities.

Apple is well-known for assembling best-in-class assistive technologies into all of their media — and the Mac, almost four decades old, is no anomaly. Apple has a knowledge base writing all about the accessibility features of macOS.

When you examine the Accessibility pane in System Preferences, you’ll witness Apple has organized the system’s accessibility features across diverse developmental domains: Hearing, Motor, Vision, and General. In addition, there’s an Overview tab for Apple to outline what accessibility does for you concisely. “Accessibility features acclimate your Mac to your individual needs,” the replica reads. “Your Mac can support your hearing, physical motor, vision, and learning & literacy needs.” Accessibility features are switched off by default, but you can notice System Preferences to enable anything you need or want. Most are accessible system-wide thru a keyboard shortcut.

The award-winning screen reader, VoiceOver is arguably the ecclesiastical Apple accessibility feature: it’s the one most users (and app developers) are familiar with. As you’d wish from a screen reader, VoiceOver permits people with blindness or low Vision to steer their computer through voice prompts. As you move through the Dock, for instance, VoiceOver will say “Button, Mail” as your pointer hovers over the mail icon. VoiceOver is also deeply customizable; users can train it to identify specific words, and the voice and talk rate can be varied as desired.

Zoom is appealing and straightforward: turn it on, and the interface is zoomed in. As with VoiceOver, Zoom can be customized significantly — you can select to scroll with a modifier key; you can zoom the entire screen thru split-screen or picture-in-picture, etc.

One notable feature in the Zoom division is Hover Text. After turning it on, users can maintain Command (?) while the mouse hovers over something to show a large-text view of the object. So, for example, reading the small print in System Preferences is wholesome. And yes, Hover Text is readily customizable — you can adjust the font type and colors of the text box to suit your visual requirements.

A large-text rendition of the smaller text on the page

The other three features beneath Vision are closely interrelated. First, the display allows a slew of options for more accessible ways to view the screen, such as increasing contrast and reducing transparency. Spoken Content will enable you to change the sound and speaking rate of the system voice; you also have the opportunity to toggle on or off the capacity to speak announcements like items under the pointer, notifications, and more. Lastly, Descriptions allow you to turn on audio descriptions for what Apple describes as “visual content in media.”

The Audio section is lovely sparse, only giving the option of a screen flash when a signal comes in. Conceptually, this serves the identical purpose as the flashing telephone we had in our house when you were growing up. Every time the phone would ring, a light in the living room would flash, alerting them that the phone was ringing.

RTT, or real-time text, is a way where people can call deaf and hard-of-hearing people who use a TDD device. TDDs make a remarkable sound, so it was easy to know when another TDD user was calling your parents.

Finally, Captions permit users to customize the look and discern the system-wide captions to suit their tastes.

The Motor category contains Pointer Control, Voice Control, Keyboard, and Switch Control.

Voice Control, raised with much fanfare in macOS Catalina at WWDC 2019, lets you control your entire Mac with your voice, which liberates those who cannot use traditional input methods like a mouse and Keyboard. In addition, you can select to enable or disable specific verbal commands and add the particular vocabulary you’d prefer to use.

The Keyboard lists a slew of opportunities for configuring how the Keyboard behaves. For example, Sticky Keys (located in the Hardware tab) is helpful for those who cannot hold down modifier keys to execute keyboard shortcuts. Pointer Control is analogous to Keyboard as it allows customization for how the pointer behaves; its Alternate Control Methods tab helps you enable several valuable options. For example, Enable alternate pointer actions to let you control your information with a separate switch or a facial expression, while Enable head pointer lets you use head movement. Eventually, switch Control, like Voice Control, lets for hands-free operation of one’s computer using external buttons known as switches. Apple markets a variety of Mac-compatible switches on its website.

General consists of two features: Siri and the Accessibility Shortcut.

Under Siri, Apple allows users to enable Type to Siri, which allows users — who are Deaf or have a speech delay, for example — to interact with Siri in a Messages-style interface.

The shortcut is straightforward. Using a keyboard shortcut (Option-Command-F5), you get a pop-up menu that lets you invoke whichever accessibility feature you choose. It’s also possible to set more than one shortcut.

Accessibility Shortcuts menu

You can get a pop-up menu of all available accessibility features using a keyboard shortcut.

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

For those with certain cognitive conditions which move between devices, the linearity of the accessibility features across platforms means a more comforting, consistent experience. A person will know what to expect and how to use certain things, which shapes a positive user experience when regularly jumping from device to device.