10 accessibility features on MacBook Air

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”.

System Preferences page with purple arrow pointing to the accessibility icon

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.

Accessibility overview

 VoiceOver

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”

Voiceover page with purple arrow pointing down at Enable VoiceOver tick box

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.

VoiceOver Utility page with purple arrows pointing to Verbosity, Announcements & Speak text under mouse after delayWhen 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.

VoiceOver Utility with purple arrows pointing to Verbosity & Text

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.

Voiceover page with a purple arrow pointing at Voiceover training

Zoom

 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”.

Zoom page with purple arrow pointing at Zoom style

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.

Zoom advanced with purple arrows pointing at the Controls & zoom maximum/minimum scroll bar

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

 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”.

Display page with multiple options including Invert colours, Reduce Motion, Increase contrast, Cursor size, Colour Filters

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”.

System Preferences page with purple arrow pointing at the Display icon

To make the text and icons larger, go to “Resolution” and select “Scale” > “Larger Text”

Display page with purple arrow pointing at the Resolution & Larger text settingsTo change the brightness, simply use the scroll bar to adjust it up or down.

Display with purple arrow pointing at Brightness settingThis setting also has a “Colour” and “Night Shift” tab but I’ve not used or needed these features.

Speech

Speech page with purple arrows on four featuresThis 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

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.

Dictation page with purple arrows to the dictation tab & dictation settingsTo 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

 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.

Siri setting page

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

 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”.

Sticky Keys page with purple arrows pointing at the Hardware tab & Enable Sticky Keys tick box

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 iss set Display pressed keys on screen (with a drop-down option menu of “Top Right, Top Left, Bottom Right & Bottom Left”)

  • 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.

Safari on Reader View on a Rock For Disability blog post titled Accessibility features on TV streaming services with a purple arrow pointing on the Reader View button next to the address barTo 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.

Bluetooth Keyboard

 As I cannot access the standard MacBook Air keyboard, I have a Bluetooth keyboard, which has large, bold black letters on a yellow background.

Bluetooth keyboard with larger, bold, black capital letters on 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.

Bluetooth page

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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