If you are blind or have low vision, a variety of assistive technologies in OS X — a built-in screen reader, screen and cursor magnification, and Dictation — help you get the most out of your Mac.
VoiceOver is the remarkable screen reader that comes standard with every Mac. But it’s much more than a text-to-speech tool. It tells you exactly what’s happening on your Mac, and lets you fully interact with it using gestures, a keyboard, or a braille display. And it uses Alex, the voice of Mac, who speaks to you in a natural tone.
Learn more about VoiceOver
Zoom is a powerful built-in magnifier that lets you enlarge your screen up to 20 times, so you can better see what’s on the display. You can use it full screen or picture-in-picture, allowing you to see the zoomed area in a separate window while keeping the rest of the screen at its native size. The hardware acceleration engine lets you boost the size of everything on your screen — text on a web page, family photos, a place on a map.
Dictation lets you talk where you would type — and it now works in over 40 languages. So you can reply to an email, search the web, or write a report using just your voice. Navigate to any text field, activate Dictation, then say what you want to write. Dictation converts your words into text. OS X also comes with more than 50 editing and formatting commands. So you can turn on Dictation and tell your Mac to bold a paragraph, delete a sentence, or replace a word. You can also use Automator workflows to create your own Dictation commands.
If a higher contrast or a lack of color helps you better see what’s on your display, OS X lets you invert colors or enable grayscale onscreen. Once you set your preferences, they apply systemwide, so you get the same view in every app. You can also turn on Increase Contrast to enhance definition and reduce transparency in some apps.
OS X lets you magnify your cursor so it’s easier to see where you are and follow along as you move around your Mac. Set the cursor size once and it stays magnified even when its shape changes. And in OS X El Capitan, when you swipe back and forth on your trackpad or quickly shake your mouse, the pointer grows so it’s easier to locate.
If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you’ll find many things to love on a Mac. Communicate easily with friends and family with FaceTime and iMessage, and use captions to watch your favorite content.
FaceTime video calls let you communicate in more ways than one. Catch every gesture and facial expression — from raised eyebrow to ear-to-ear smile. Thanks to its high-quality video and fast frame rate, FaceTime is ideal for people who communicate using sign language. And because Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch all come equipped with FaceTime, you can talk to iOS and OS X users across the street or across the globe. As if you’re face to face.*
Think of it as a visual beep. Instead of playing an alert sound, your Mac can flash its screen when an app needs your attention. Screen Flash automatically works with every app that uses the system beep. So there’s nothing more for you to do once you set it up.
When you’re using headphones, you may miss some audio if you’re deaf or hard of hearing in one ear. That’s because stereo recordings usually have distinct left- and right-channel audio tracks. OS X can help by playing both audio channels in both ears, and letting you adjust the balance for greater volume in either ear, so you won’t miss a single note of a concerto or word of an audiobook.
If you have difficulties using the keyboard, mouse, or trackpad, OS X technologies like Switch Control can help you access your Mac like never before. You can even control elements of your computer by speaking. The features are easy to access and work across a range of apps.
Switch Control is a powerful accessibility technology for anyone with significantly impaired physical and motor skills. Built directly into OS X, it gives you the ability to navigate onscreen keyboards, menus, and the Dock using a system commonly referred to as scanning. Switch Control supports new users as well as those with advanced needs like multi-monitor support. Create your own custom panels and keyboards, systemwide or app by app, to provide you with the most efficient access to your Mac. And you can use a variety of adaptive devices such as a switch, a joystick, a keyboard space bar, or even a single tap on the Multi-Touch trackpad for easy control.
Slow Keys adjusts the sensitivity of the keyboard to process only the keystrokes you mean to make. It builds in a delay between when a key is pressed and when it’s entered. You can adjust the delay and choose to have a sound play when a key is entered.
Sticky Keys combines your keystrokes for you by letting you press keys one at a time, instead of simultaneously, to enter commands. Enter a key combination — such as Command-S (for Save) — and OS X displays each pressed key, accompanied by a sound effect, so you can make sure the right keys are entered.
OS X has over 50 editing and formatting commands. So you can turn on Dictation and tell your Mac to bold a paragraph, delete a sentence, or replace a word. You can also use Automator workflows to create your own Dictation commands.
If you have difficulty using a mouse or trackpad, use Mouse Keys to control the cursor with the numeric keypad. Press a number key as the mouse button, and use other number keys to move around the screen or to drag and drop items. Easily navigate menus, the Dock, and all your windows.
Sometimes it’s easier to use a pointing device than a keyboard. The Keyboard Viewer in OS X lets you do exactly that. It’s an image of a keyboard that floats above other applications (so it’s always handy) and you can customize it to fit your screen. Then “type” using a mouse or other pointing device. Turn on Sticky Keys and you can enter keyboard shortcuts via the onscreen keyboard, too.
The Mac has several features designed for people with cognitive and learning disabilities. Simplify the Finder to improve focus. And use the handy reference tools to improve language skills wherever you are in OS X.
With parental controls, the Mac can be set up to provide a greatly simplified experience that may be easier for people with cognitive and learning disabilities. Simple Finder reduces the Dock to just three folders. Teachers can limit the list of apps a student can open to only the ones they choose, so students can stay focused. Files, folders, and apps are displayed in a single window of neatly arranged icons so everything is easier to find.
Say you’re reading an article on astronomy and are stuck on some terminology. Just look it up in the powerful built-in Dictionary app — from anywhere in OS X. Get quick access to definitions and synonyms that help with grammar, spelling, and pronunciation.
Text to Speech
We all learn in different ways. Some of us learn better when two or more senses are engaged simultaneously. With Text to Speech, you can highlight any text, and Alex will read it aloud. Or choose from other male or female voices to do the reading. You can even adjust the speaking rate. And if you speak more than one language, you can choose from over 70 voices spanning 42 languages.
To help with vocabulary and word-building skills, OS X provides word completion in apps such as TextEdit and Pages. After typing just a few letters, press the Escape key and OS X suggests words. Select the word you want, and OS X completes it for you.
Those who have difficulty with expressive speech can also benefit from the assistive features in OS X. FaceTime lets you communicate visually, whether through the use of sign language, gestures, or facial expressions. iMessage lets you chat with others via text. And Text to Speech lets you hear words read aloud to help with expressive speech development — or even communicates for you by speaking the words you type.