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Having VoiceOver Read from the Screen

VoiceOver is a screen reader utility for OS X that speaks the text in documents and windows. When you open accessible applications in VoiceOver, the application automatically speak text. For example, Messages speaks new text messages as they arrive.

When you move around your screen or within documents using VoiceOver, a dark rectangle appears, known as the VoiceOver cursor, to indicate the screen focus area for what to speak. You can use your mouse and keyboard with VoiceOver to move and configure the VoiceOver cursor. You can also let VoiceOver help you drag and drop. Simply mark the item you want to drag, then mark the destination and VoiceOver does the rest. VoiceOver uses Apple synthesis to deliver a more natural speaking voice at a faster rate. OS X includes built-in voices that speak 23 languages, which you can customize to suit your needs. You can also download higher-quality versions of the languages from VoiceOver Utility.

VoiceOver also supports Braille (with greater display device support, including Bluetooth) and note-takers. If you have a supported Braille display connected to your computer, VoiceOver detects and configures it and can translate output into standard, Grade 2 contracted Braille for use in supported devices. A Braille display shows one line of screen content in a row of Braille cells. You can specify the default level at which you receive the content, known as the braille verbosity level, as well as specific levels for individual controls, such as applications, check boxes, headings, images, and links. In addition, it supports more than 80 braille tables in a wide range of languages.



Getting Started with VoiceOver

Before you can use VoiceOver, you need to turn it on in the Accessibility pane of System Preferences or use the keyboard shortcut apple.jpg+Option+F5 (New!). In addition to turning on VoiceOver, it’s a good idea to use the VoiceOver utility to customize VoiceOver so it works the way you want. You can set options in the following areas: General, Verbosity, Speech, Navigation, Web, Sound, Visual, Commanders, Braille, and Activities. If you have want to use your VoiceOver preferences on all your Macs, you can set up and enable Portable Preferences in the VoiceOver Utility under General settings.

Working with VoiceOver

The easiest way to use VoiceOver is to use the VoiceOver keys, the Control and Option keys together. These are known as VO keys. When used together, the Control and Options keys allows you to control VoiceOver and move the VoiceOver cursor. However, it’s easy to get lost. If you do get lost in VoiceOver and you’re not sure where the focus is located, you can use the F1 through F6 keys with the VO keys to hear information about items where the VoiceOver cursor, keyboard, or mouse pointer is focused. If you are not sure what a key on the keyboard does in VoiceOver, you can use keyboard help to learn the names of the keys. After you start keyboard help, simply, press any key to hear its name. If you like to use the numeric pad on your extended keyboard, you can use NumPad and Keyboard Commanders using drag and drop (New!) to program the keys with VoiceOver commands. If you prefer using menus instead of VO keyboard shortcuts, you can use one of the VoiceOver menu’s to get help with or execute a command. The oversized white-on-black menu makes it easy to use.


In VoiceOver, you can navigate sequentially through a document or application or skip through by object. You can also create hot spots using drag and drop (New!) to monitor an object or area in a window and get notification when something changes. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can perform smart searches for objects and text in the current window.

When you’re browsing the web, VoiceOver can begin reading a web page immediately when it’s loaded. It also allows you to intelligently navigate around web pages, including tables to important parts using web spots.

If you use a trackpad, you can control VoiceOver by touching the pad. The surface of the trackpad acts as the active window with each corner representing absolute window coordinates. VoiceOver guides you through the process using voice commands.


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Last Update: November 17, 2020