Universal Access and VoiceOver


One of the most useful features built in to your Mac is Universal Access and Voice Over, which is accessed in the System Preferences application (in the Apple menu). Commonly used for people needing sight and hearing assisted computing methods, they are very useful for nearly everyone. You can read about all of the features on Apple’s site, or jump straight to Vision, Hearing, Physical & Motor Skills, or Literacy & Learning.

How can these features help everyone? I’ll cover one small feature of each option to show you how I use them:

Seeing:
Universal Access: Seeing

Have you ever wanted to see something on the screen just a little larger (or a lot larger!) than it shows up normally? Turn on Zoom (or press ⌘⌥8 to enable and disable Zoom without visiting the Universal Access System Preference), and then the press ⌘⌥= to zoom the screen in, and ⌘⌥- (minus) to zoom out. Click the Options… button for default settings as well as maximum and minimum levels. Need help with those “special keys?” See my post on Apple Modifier Keys.

Hearing:
Universal Access: Hearing

Have you ever wanted to use your Mac with the volume turned all the way down, but still want to be able to know when the computer is trying to tell you something? Enable “Flash the screen when an alert sound occurs” and you’ll get visual feedback when an alert sound chimes.

Keyboard:
Universal Access: Keyboard

This feature lets you use your machine one handed; very useful if you have your arm in a sling! Turn Sticky Keys on, and then when you press a key modifier, such as Shift, Command or Option, you’ll be able to press them sequentially. If you want to use the keyboard to print one handed, make sure Sticky Keys is enabled (there is an option to turn it on and off by pressing the shift key 5 times in a row) and press the ⌘ key followed by the P key, and you’ll never have to time your keystrokes again! Be careful, though, as this can get confusing if you have the option to turn it on and off by pressing the shift key, as inevitably you’ll turn it on, not mean to, and wonder what is going on with your machine!

Mouse:
Universal Access: Mouse

This one is handy when if your mouse stops working and you don’t have another one handy, or don’t have the physical space to put a mouse. Enable Mouse Keys and then the numeric keypad becomes your mouse. 1,3,7, &9 moves the mouse diagonally, 2 is down, 4 is left, 6 is right & 8 is up. 5 is the mouse button, 0 holds the mouse button, and . releases the mouse button. If you have a portable computer or a keyboard with no dedicated numeric keypad, you have to press the Num Lock key, which is usually F6. It’s enabled when the green light is active on those keyboards.

If you have lots of screen real estate (if you are lucky enough to have 2 30″ displays on your desk, and you lose the mouse pointer on the screen, you can also control how large the mouse pointer shows up on screen here.

Now, for your reference, here is a list of all the commands:

Keyboard shortcut Description
Option-Command-8 Turn on Zoom
Option-Command-+ (plus) Zoom in
Option-Command– (minus) Zoom out
Control-Option-Command-8 Switch to White on Black
Control-F1 Turn on Full Keyboard Access
When Full Keyboard Access is turned on, you can use the key combinations listed in the table below from the Finder.
Control-F2 Full Keyboard Access
Highlight Menu
Control-F3 Full Keyboard Access
Highlight Dock
Control-F4 Full Keyboard Access
Highlight Window (active) or next window behind it
Control-F5 Full Keyboard Access
Highlight Toolbar
Control-F6 Full Keyboard Access
Highlight Utility window (palette)
Command-F5 or fn-Command-F5 Turn VoiceOver on or off (Mac OS X 10.4 or later)
Control-Option-F8 or fn-Control-Option-F8 Open VoiceOver Utility (Mac OS X 10.4 or later)
Control-Option-F7 or fn-Control-option-F7 Display VoiceOver menu (Mac OS X 10.4 or later)
Control-Option-;
or fn-Control-option-;
Enable/disable VoiceOver Control-Option lock (Mac OS X 10.4 or later)
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