Exploring Mac and iOS accessibility features

Both OS X and iOS offer a number of features making the operating system accessible. Here we take a look at a few of them.

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  • VoiceOver Utility On Mac VoiceOver on Mac
  • VoiceOver On iOS VoiceOver on iOS
  • Hearing On Mac Hearing Aids
  • Interaction On Macs Interaction on Macs
  • AssistiveTouch On iOS Interaction on iOS
  • More stories
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VoiceOver on Mac

Many of the Accessibility visual aids are virtually identical on Macs and iOS devices. There are a number of options for altering colour and contrast settings to improve the visibility of the screen. There’s also a Zoom option that can be used to magnify the entire screen, or just specific areas, such as the headline on a web page.

However, the key feature here is VoiceOver, the ‘screen reader’ program that can read out text from web pages and other documents, and also describe elements such as icons and control buttons that are displayed on the screen of your devices. VoiceOver can also be used to set up Braille displays for use with Macs and iOS devices.

The VoiceOver controls on the Mac are more extensive than on iOS, as they have to accommodate the use of a mouse and keyboard, as well as dealing with the Mac’s more complex graphical interface. There are many different ‘verbosity’ controls that can describe mouse and keyboard actiosn, such as telling you when the mouse cursor moves over an open window, or reading out column headers as you scroll through a spreadsheet. Fortunately, there’s a special training program built into the Accessibility panel on Macs that can introduce you to VoiceOver and help you to set it up in the way that suits you best (you can also read Apple’s full VoiceOver guide at here.

Read: Mac Dictation versus Dragon Dictate

Also: Will Apple launch Siri for Mac

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Next Prev VoiceOver Utility On Mac

Many of the Accessibility visual aids are virtually identical on Macs and iOS devices. There are a number of options for altering colour and contrast settings to improve the visibility of the screen. There’s also a Zoom option that can be used to magnify the entire screen, or just specific areas, such as the headline on a web page.

However, the key feature here is VoiceOver, the ‘screen reader’ program that can read out text from web pages and other documents, and also describe elements such as icons and control buttons that are displayed on the screen of your devices. VoiceOver can also be used to set up Braille displays for use with Macs and iOS devices.

The VoiceOver controls on the Mac are more extensive than on iOS, as they have to accommodate the use of a mouse and keyboard, as well as dealing with the Mac’s more complex graphical interface. There are many different ‘verbosity’ controls that can describe mouse and keyboard actiosn, such as telling you when the mouse cursor moves over an open window, or reading out column headers as you scroll through a spreadsheet. Fortunately, there’s a special training program built into the Accessibility panel on Macs that can introduce you to VoiceOver and help you to set it up in the way that suits you best (you can also read Apple’s full VoiceOver guide at here.

Read: Mac Dictation versus Dragon Dictate

Also: Will Apple launch Siri for Mac

 

VoiceOver on iOS

VoiceOver on iOS devices isn’t quite so complex, as your primary way of controlling an iPhone or iPad is simply by tapping on the screen. However, activating VoiceOver on an iOS device does change the way that the touch-screen controls work. A single tap on any item on the screen will prompt VoiceOver to describe that item for you. In the example shown here, I can tap the icon for the Mail app and VoiceOver will announce: "Mail – 17 unread emails". Double-tapping anywhere on the screen – not just on the Mail icon – will then launch that app for me so that I can use VoiceOver to read out my emails.

That’s straightforward enough – the only drawback is that scrolling through documents or lists of settings can become a little tricky, as you now have to use three fingers to scroll up or down on the screen.

Fortunately, VoiceOver includes another option, called the Rotor, that can help here. Activating the Rotor displays a large dial on the screen of your iPhone or iPad, which can be controlled with a two-finger ‘twist’ action. The Rotor can be set to highlight specific items, such as the headings on a web page, so you can quickly navigate through a web page by using your fingers to advance from one heading to the next and letting VoiceOver read out the text for you.

Read: How to get your iPad to read a book out loud

Also: Complete guide to Siri

 

Hearing Aids

The Accessibility features for people who are deaf or hard of hearing are very similar on Macs and iOS devices.

You can set the screen to flash whenever an audio alert or error message sounds, and set the audio output to mono rather than stereo. There’s also support for both closed captions and the alternative SDH caption system.

If you use a hearing aid there’s a special Hearing Aid mode on iOS that works with Bluetooth hearing aids, and iPhones can also use noise-cancellation technology to improve the audio quality when taking phone calls.

 

Interaction on Macs

Most of these Accessibility features work in a very similar fashion on Macs and iOS devices. However, the final set of ‘interaction’ features reflect the differences between Macs that use a keyboard and mouse, and the touch-screen controls of the iPhone and iPad.

Macs provide a Sticky Keys option that makes it easier to use complex keyboard commands, such as Command-Shift-3 to take a screenshot. Instead of pressing all three keys together, Sticky Keys allows you to press them one at a time.

To give yourself a little more time to respond you can also use the Slow Keys option to adjust the speed with which the Mac responds to key presses, and you can tell your Mac to display the various command and function keys on screen as you press them so that you can see exactly what commands you have used.

There’s also a Mouse Keys option on the Mac that lets you use the keyboard to move your mouse pointer around the screen.

Read: Mac Keyboard shortcuts

And: How to control your Mac with hand gestures

 

Interaction on iOS

Things are different on iOS devices, as they obviously don’t have a keyboard and mouse, but there is an option for using special ‘switch control’ devices that can help you to highlight and select items on screen. There’s also a feature called AssistiveTouch that makes it easier to perform certain types of commands on a touch-screen.

Activating AssistiveTouch displays a large grey button on the screen. Tapping this button displays a special menu that uses simple buttons to replace gestures such as swiping upwards to activate the Control Centre. There’s also a ‘Device’ button in this menu that displays alternate controls for adjusting volume, rotating the screen or simply turning the iPhone or iPad off.

The AssistiveTouch controls also allow you to create custom gestures of your own, which can be used to replace standard iOS gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom.

Read: How to use gestures on the iPhone

Find out how to adjust the settings on your iPad and the system preferences on your Mac with our guides:

Complete guide to System Preferences on a Mac

Complete guide to Setting on an iPad and iPhone

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