Back in April, I treated myself to a new laptop and purchased a new MacBook Air. Following my Assistive Tech Tips series that I published back in 2018, I thought I create a new blog post rounding up the accessibility features available on the MacBook Air.
Most Apple devices include the same accessibility features but how to set them up and use them differs between iPhones, iPads and MacBooks.
Accessibility features on MacBook Air
When you turn on your MacBook Air, go to the bottom of the desktop screen and select “System Preferences” > “Accessibility”.
Here you will see a side bar that contains accessibility features for “Vision, Hearing, Motor & General”. For my personal needs, I’m only using vision and Motor features due to my sight loss and dexterity issues.
VoiceOver provides spoken descriptions of items on the screen. When VoiceOver is on, you primarily control the computer with keyboard shortcuts. But for people who still have some useful vision, like myself, you can still use the mouse to select items etc. I don’t tend to use VoiceOver all the time, just when I’m trying to navigate some new software, app or website that I’m not familiar with.
To turn on VoiceOver, simply go to “Accessibility” > “VoiceOver” > tick “Enable VoiceOver”
To have VoiceOver speak what the mouse cursor is hovering over, go to “VoiceOver Utility” > “Verbosity” > “Announcements” > tick “Speak text under mouse after delay”. You can then adjust the delay so it can speak as soon as the mouse hovers on text or delay it for up to 2 seconds.
When typing text, you can amend whether the VoiceOver speaks each letter, word, punctuation, deleted characters and/or misspellings. To change these preferences, go to “Voice Utility” > “Verbosity” > “Text” > Select the various drop-down menus and change each setting.
I’ve never used VoiceOver with the keyboard shortcuts, but if you would prefer to access the computer that way, you can go to “Accessibility” > “VoiceOver” > “Open VoiceOver Training…”, which will guide you through all the steps o using VoiceOver with the keyboard.
Zoom is an accessibility feature that magnifies everything on your screen. To set up Zoom, go to “Accessibility” > “Zoom” then select which “Zoom style” you would like; “Full screen, Picture-in-picture or Split screen”.
Next, click “Advanced” > “Controls” and at the bottom adjust your maximum and minimum zoom. On my setting, “4 is maximum” and “just under 4 is my minimum”. When adjusting the zoom, you can’t actually view it yet.
To see your screen zoomed, go back to the main Zoom setting screen and tick “Use keyboard shortcuts to zoom” then press “Command+Option+8” to turn on Zoom, “Command+Option+=” to Zoom in maximum and “Command+Option+-“ to zoom out minimum.
If you have significant sight loss and unable to use VoiceOver, you may need a sighted person to set Zoom up for you.
Unfortunately, Zoom does not start when you turn on the MacBook. Therefore, each time you turn on the computer, you’ll need to turn on Zoom by using the shortcut “Command+Opinion+8”.
Display allows you to change the colours, brightness and sizes of items on the screen to make things easier to see. To open Display settings, go to “Accessibility” > “Display”.
In this area, you have multiple tick box and drop-down menu options, which include:
- Invert colours – turns the screen to black background on white text
- Reduce Motion – settles down and smooths out the zooms, pans, shifts, parallax, and other dynamic elements on the screen.
- Increase contrast – makes tick boxes and tab buttons bolder
- Cursor size – Increase or decrease the mouse cursor size
- Colour Filters – change background and text colours (e.g Red/Green, Blue/Yellow)
Larger text and icons
This setting is similar to “Display” but isn’t actually in the accessibility features. It allows you to change the size of the menu text and desktop icons. Plus, you can change the brightness of the screen.
To open this setting, go to “System Preferences” > “Display”.
To make the text and icons larger, go to “Resolution” and select “Scale” > “Larger Text”
To change the brightness, simply use the scroll bar to adjust it up or down.
This setting also has a “Colour” and “Night Shift” tab but I’ve not used or needed these features.
This setting allows you to hear documents, web pages and menu options read aloud. I tend to use this when proofreading work or read long articles online.
To access this feature, go to “Accessibility” > “Speech”. In these settings you can change the “System Voice”. I have “Siri Female (UK)” on mine. You can change the speaking rate to “Slow, Normal or Fast”.
You can also decide how and when you use Speech by ticking certain options. The first is “Enable Announcements”, which means it will speak when a notification appears, or an application needs your attention.
Another option is to turn on “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”. This means when you want it to read certain text from a document or website, yu highlight all or part of the text you want read aloud and then use a keyboard shortcut to start speaking. I use this feature when proofreading work or reading articles online. You can set the keyboard shortcut to your preference. For instance, I use “Option+S”.
The final option is “Speak items under your pointer”. This is basically the same as the “Speak text under mouse after delay” option on VoiceOver where it speaks what the mouse cursor is hovering over. You can also adjust the delay so it can speak as soon as the mouse hovers on text or delay it for up to 5 seconds.
Dictation allows you to speak aloud what you want to type. I don’t do this all the time but just when I’m sending a quick message or want to search something on Google. This feature is also not specifically an accessibility feature but does give easier access for those who may find typing slower or more difficult.
To enable “Dictation”, go to “System Preferences” > “Keyboard” > “Dictation” then select “On”. You can select a language and a keyboard shortcut to activate (e.g Command+4”.
Siri is the virtual assistant that comes with all Apple devices. I only ever use it on my MacBook to turn on a setting feature or open an application I can’t easily find.
To open “Siri”, go to “System Preference” > “Siri” > tick “Enable Ask Siri”. You can then adjust settings such as turn on “Hey Siri” voice command that wakes the assistant, keyboard shortcut, language, voice type, voice feedback and Siri history.
Sticky Keys is an accessibility feature that allows you to press more than one keyboard button separately. For example, if I wanted to use the keyboard shortcut for ”Copy”, rather than holding “Command+C” together, I can press “Command” then “C”. This is useful for people with dexterity issues or can only type one handed.
To turn on “Sticky Keys”, go to “Accessibility” > “Keyboard” > “Hardware” > tick “Enable Sticky Keys”.
Also, if you go to “Options” you can set additional features, which include:
- Press the Shift key five times to toggle Sticky Keys
- Beep when a modified key is set
- Display pressed keys on screen (with a drop-down option menu of “Top Right, Top Left, Bottom Right & Bottom Left”)
Safari Reader View
Safari is the default web browser application on Apple devices. When I’m scrolling some websites, I find the layout or text fonts hard to see. Luckily there is a feature in the Safari app called Reader View that allows you to change the page to a simpler format. Although be aware you won’t be able to access Call to Action buttons such as Buy, Donate, Submit, Apply etc. Therefore, you’ll still need the standard desktop view to access links on the website.
To use “Reader View”, open “Safari” and find a website. Once on a site page, go to the top of the browser where the address bar is and click on the four lined paragraph icon. Do be aware not all websites are compatible with Reader View.
As I cannot access the standard MacBook Air keyboard, I have a Bluetooth keyboard, which has large, bold black letters on a yellow background.
To connect the keyboard to the MacBook, go to “System Preferences” > “Bluetooth” and select the Bluetooth keyboard you want to connect. It will ask you to type a 6-digit code to configure the connection.
I hope this guide has been useful. To find out more about other accessibility features on MacBook, check the Apple Support pages.
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