Did you know that Apple offers many useful features that can make MacBooks easier to use for people with disabilities? In fact, anyone can use these features to control their MacBooks more easily. This guide shows what Apple’s Accessibility features are and how to enable them on a Mac.
What Are Accessibility Features?
The Accessibility features on macOS allow you to customize the way your computer works to suit your needs. For example, you can use these settings to make it easier to see the screen, hear sounds, control the mouse and keyboard, and use other assistive devices.
There are three types of Accessibility features, and they cover three disabilities: visual, hearing, and motor.
Access these Accessibility features on your Mac by going to “System Preferences -> Accessibility,” then the sidebar on the left.
Let’s take a look at the three disabilities one by one.
Five visual impairment Accessibility features are categorized under the “Vision” heading in the Accessibility menu.
VoiceOver tells you what’s on your screen by reading it aloud. Apple has refined VoiceOver over the years, allowing it to read the text and describe documents, graphs, and objects on the screen with much more detail and precision.
Listening to what’s on your screen with VoiceOver allows you to navigate through your Mac flawlessly, even if you have weak eyesight. It also works with Braille displays, so if you connect one to your Mac, it will automatically send auditory descriptions to it.
Enable the feature by going to “System Preferences -> Accessibility -> VoiceOver.” Alternatively, use the Command + F5 shortcut to activate VoiceOver.
You will see a dialog for the feature when you use the shortcut. Simply click the “Use VoiceOver” button to proceed.
When you have to turn the feature off, click the “X” button on the top-left corner of the dialog box.
As the name suggests, Zoom can be used to enlarge the content of your screen. You can use Zoom to magnify your screen in three different ways: full screen, picture-in-picture, and split screen.
- Full-screen mode lets you magnify the entire screen of your Mac so that you can read the content without squinting your eyes.
- In Picture-in-picture mode, a separate window pops up to magnify the content.
- In Split screen mode, only a custom area of the screen is magnified.
To use any of the zooming modes, first check the “Use scroll gesture with modifier keys to zoom” option.
Set the modifier key you want to use with the scroll gesture to activate the zoom mode of your choice. In our case, it’s the Control key.
Once set up, press and hold the Control key and perform the scroll gesture on your trackpad to zoom in or zoom out.
You can also enable “Hover Text,” which magnifies whatever you hover your pointer over in a separate window.
Once you’ve checked the option, click the “Options” button to further set up the feature.
You can adjust its text size, text font, text entry location, activation modifier, and activation lock.
The modifier is the button that activates the feature. If it’s set to the Command key, whenever you hover over text while pressing and holding the key, you will be able to see the text magnified in a pop-up dialog.
Even if you aren’t visually impaired, combining Zoom with VoiceOver can make your Mac considerably easier to use in certain situations.
Under the “Display” accessibility features, you can tweak your display preferences, pointer, and screen color preferences to better fulfill your visual needs.
From the “Display” tab, invert screen colors, reduce motion, increase contrast, reduce transparency, differentiate without color, show window title icons, and show toolbar button shapes.
You can also tweak your menu bar’s size.
Lastly, to adjust your display’s contrast, use the slider at the bottom of the window and drag it from left to right to increase the contrast.
From the “Pointer” tab, use the “Shake mouse pointer to locate” feature, which enlarges the mouse pointer temporarily when shaken. This is helpful to almost everyone (even those without visual impairments), as it’s often difficult to locate the mouse pointer when you start using a Mac after a break.
You can also customize the pointer size, outline color, and fill color to make the pointer easier to view and locate.
Color Filters Tab
The “Color Filters” feature lets you change your screen to different color sets using full-screen filters. Check the “Enable Color Filters” option to activate the feature.
Pick from five different filters by clicking the “Filter type” drop-down.
By using the “Intensity” slider, you can decide how intense you want the filer to be.
Descriptions read film scenes, TV shows, and other videos out loud. If audio descriptions are available for a video, they will play automatically once you’ve enabled them from “System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Descriptions.”
5. Spoken Content
The “Spoken Content” feature is mostly for those who don’t like to –or simply cannot – read content and would rather have their screen read aloud to them.
Under this feature, there are multiple options. First, change the “System Voice,” and hit the “Play” button to preview the voice before setting it.
Adjust how fast the content is read by tweaking the “Speaking Rate” and “Volume” using the sliders.
You can decide how you want to use this feature using four different sub-features.
When enabled, this feature speaks out announcements (like notifications) or alerts (like system errors) only.
By clicking the “Options” button beside it, you can set a custom voice for it, a custom phrase, and adjust the delay between the occurrence and the announcement.
Use the “Play” button to preview the announcement before finalizing it, then click “OK” to proceed.
With the “Speak selection” feature, the system only speaks out the content that you’ve highlighted.
Click the “Options” button to tweak this feature. In the options, set a custom shortcut to require the use of the shortcut to activate it.
You can then play with other options, like what kind of content you want to highlight, the word and sentence colors, and styles.
You can also view the controller, which lets you control the speed of the content being read.
Speak Items Under the Pointer
Perhaps the most convenient feature here is “Speak items under the pointer,” which speaks out everything that comes under your pointer.
You can decide whether you want the system to read everything every time or whether you want it to read the content only when you’ve zoomed in on something. To change the setting, use the drop-down.
“Speech verbosity” and “After delay” are two other settings in this feature.
Speak Typing Feedback
The “Speak typing feedback” feature gives you feedback when you’re typing, like suggesting different words and corrections.
From the options for this feature, decide what kind of feedback you want from characters, words, selection changes, and modifier keys. You can select one, multiple, or all.
These features can assist if you have hearing difficulties (whether partially or fully deaf).
Under “Audio”, is the sensory alerts feature, which converts the sound signals of system alerts/announcements into visual signals.
Every time there’s an error, instead of giving a sound signal, your Mac will flash the screen to notify you that an error has occurred. You can test it by clicking the “Text Screen Flash” button.
While usually stereo audio has unique right- and left-channel tracks, with the “Play stereo audio as mono” feature, the two tracks, when listened to together, provide a complete listening experience.
However, if you have hearing disabilities, you will find it difficult to differentiate between the two channels. For that, you can switch to mono audio. Simply check the option to do so.
Whether verbal or non-verbal, every dialogue and scene in a video, movie and TV show can be read via the “Captions” feature to assist you if you are hearing impaired.
You can customize the caption settings with different fonts and styles to improve readability using the “Style for subtitles and captions” list.
If Closed Captions are available for a video, click the CC icon to enable them.
Motor accessibility features will help if you cannot use the keyboard, mouse, or trackpad to control your Mac due to physical disabilities.
1. Voice Control
With Voice Control, you can control your Mac by speaking to it. There are many commands available for Voice Control, and once you aren’t used to them, you can swiftly navigate through your Mac.
You can perform the following tasks with commands:
- Basic Navigation: open and close apps, scroll up and down a page, wake your Mac up and put it to sleep, launch Spotlight and Siri, navigate through different tabs, and so on.
- Overlays & Mouse: single, double, and triple-click, zoom in and out, drag and drop, and move the cursor around the screen.
- Dictation: speak what you want to type in a text field, and your Mac will convert your audio into text. You can use dictation to type emails without really typing them.
- Text Selection: you can also use Voice Control to select text to copy, paste, cut, replace, and format. You can also seamlessly make changes to any part of the text you select.
You can even add your own vocabulary by clicking the “Vocabulary” button.
Use those custom words to create custom commands.
The “Keyboard” accessibility features help you maximize the opportunities to control your Mac using your keyboard.
Enable “Full Keyboard Access” to navigate through your Mac without using a mouse or trackpad. It highlights the section of the screen that has the focus so that you can press different keyboard shortcuts to perform different actions.
For instance, you can:
- Press the Tab key to move to the next UI element.
- Press the Spacebar to select an item.
- Press the Spacebar twice to open a folder.
From the “Hardware” tab, enable “Sticky Keys,” which lets you press a combination of keys sequentially instead of simultaneously. Instead of pressing the Command + Spacebar shortcut simultaneously to bring up Spotlight, press the Command key, then follow with the Spacebar key.
3. Pointer Control
You can also tweak your pointer settings to make it easier to use your Mac.
For instance, you can enable “Mouse Keys,” which allows you to eliminate the need for a physical mouse and move the pointer with just your keyboard.
Additionally, use the head pointer to move the cursor with the movement of your head. It uses your Mac’s camera to track your head movement so that if you move your head to the right, the cursor will also move to the right.
4. Switch Control
For users with extreme motor impairments, Switch Control lets them control their Macs with different switch controls, such as joysticks, game controllers, and other adaptive accessories. To show the true capabilities of Switch Control, Apple released a video.
The video was edited by a certified Final Cut Pro video editor using Switch Control.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there new Accessibility features coming?
Yes. Earlier this year, Apple announced innovative Accessibility features that’ll be available across devices. These features include Door Detection, Apple Watch Mirroring, Live Captions, Voice Control Spelling Mode, Buddy Controller, and much more.
What are Live Captions?
Apple is introducing Live Captions for videos on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. The new feature will intelligently generate captions for media when Closed Captions are not available. Live Captions can be used for FaceTime calls, streaming services, and other media. If you’re running macOS Ventura, read on to learn how to enable Live Captions on Mac.
Are accessibility features available on the iPhone?
Yes, Accessibility features are available on the iPhone as well. Head to “Settings -> Accessibility” to access them. They include almost all the features available on Macs in addition to AssistiveTouch, Touch accommodations, Back tap, Reachability, and more.
Image credit: Ilya Pavlov via Unsplash. All screenshots by Hashir Ibrahim.
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