Screen Reader Usage: Part 4

Using a Mac: One blind person’s journey learning a new operating system with access technology.

Welcome to another article here on Vocal. This is part 4 of the screen reader series. In this article, I would like to talk today about using a Mac computer using access technology called Voice Over. Voice Over is a piece of technology similar to the Windows Counterpart Window-Eyes and Jaws I last talked about in my last article.

Its keystrokes are somewhat different altogether than the 2 readers, and I personally feel that it can be learned if you have the patience.

Learning Voice Over was a little tricky for me, as first I needed to learn the keyboard. It is completely different than a Windows PC keyboard, and even recently, I got another keyboard for this PC. I had to learn it as well, and I think that's the hardest part of learning a new type of computer, whether it is a Mac or PC. The other aspect of this is learning the operating system on top of it like I had to do with Windows 10 and this new keyboard.

One difference that I've noticed is the way the Mac is taught to a blind person. A lot of the material is taught in what I would call shorthand. This means that the instructions tell you to press the Voice Over key followed by a different key or keys on the keyboard.

When we talk about Voice Over and its keystrokes, the first thing I was taught was that the voice over keystroke was control and option followed by a different key. The good news from all of this is the fact that we can still use our arrow keys to review text and we can also type as normal. That will never change no matter what screen reader or operating system you work with. The commands themselves may be different on how to do something like reading a document, browsing the web, or navigating complex programs. The basic operating system commands will be the same once taught. That's very important to know.

Different types of programs may have different keystrokes depending on how it was programmed. Voice Over comes on all iOS devices including the Mac by default, making it a valuable alternative to the Windows operating system. Knowing the simple command of control and option followed by various keys to get Voice Over talking is going to be the first step in your adventure on using this software. Voice Over also comes with built in help, as well as a keyboard help function similar to the windows counterparts.

While my focus of this article is not on iOS specifically, iOS also has a set of commands using the screen and keyboard when the keyboard is connected to the phone. The commands go hand in hand keyboard wise, whether you use the phone with Bluetooth or whether you use the computer keyboard that comes with the mac itself.

As for iOS, I can tell you that there are specific gestures that are used when Voice Over is enabled that will allow it to talk to you when it is on. For example, tapping on the screen will tell you what the item is. There are more commands, but this is not going to be the focus of today’s article.

The internet has a whole different set of commands and you have to interact with different elements to be able to do things with it. For example, when I was on a site called Universal Class, they have tests you need to complete. I ended up having to interact with the frame just to take the test. I found it very confusing and while I'm rusty on specific commands, Voice Over has a manual that is of use to you as well as a whole community of people who can help who are also blind and use the Mac and iOS as a whole.

In comparing this to Windows, I believe the Mac in conjunction with the community I’m about to describe would make the Mac a very valuable option for those people who are strapped for cash and can only afford a computer and nothing else.

The community I’m speaking of is called Apple Vis. Apple Vis has a directory of applications for the Mac that work with the assistive technology product. People also try applications and can put entries for the apps that do not work so well so you, the consumer, can know the types of apps that may be a problem to the user. Of course, if you find that you are able to use an app that has been troublesome, you’re able to tell the community this as part of the effort of giving as much accurate information as possible to each person who views the site.

To leave feedback on the Apple Vis site, one must sign up for an account, and you can give a nickname and have that displayed, so you don’t need to use your real name if you don’t want to. They do strive for accuracy where possible. Questions can be asked and answers are given. I recently posted about Google Docs in regards to iOS, and got an answer.

My goal of this particular article is not to indulge you on what key does what, as I haven’t used the Mac in quite awhile, but I found a need to learn it, and did through a class for blind people that can be taught individually through Braille Institute. They can teach computers, phones, and even can train you on Orientation and Mobility as well, so if you need their services, just give them a call. Braille Institute has offices in California at different locations, so if you are interested and find the need, look them up and determine if they are a good fit for you.

My personal experience of learning the Mac was easy, but remembering the keystrokes when I’m mainly using a Windows machine was challenging. The Apple Vis site linked above has plenty of podcasts out there on using the mac, and guides are available to get you up and running if you know of anyone that may need the resource. They may be able to send you to another agency who serve blind people if they can’t help you. Do keep this in mind.

To show you the wealth of what Apple Vis has to offer, on the main home page, they have a heading entitled: “Getting Started With Your First Mac, iOS Device or Apple Watch” and it has links to guides on what you should know about each. The Mac guide is on this particular link on their site. When I read the iOS one, the page talked about basic commands, gestures, what they did, and if memory has it, basic setup and recommendations.

Remember, each person is going to be using this type of technology differently, and also remember that your use may be different than what it says for you to do. Learning styles are also different, so learn at your own pace, and also know that Apple themselves may have classes and one on one training as well. Check with Apple for more info.

As usual, if you have any thoughts or comments, I’m just an e-mail away. Just click on my name, and I list my e-mail there. I hope this short introduction on how to use the Mac from a blindness perspective is valuable, and thanks for reading!

Jared Rimer
Jared Rimer

My name is Jared. I'm visually impaired. I'm looking to write about a lot of different topics. If you find you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. E-mail [email protected] or www.jaredrimer.net.

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Screen Reader Usage: Part 4