Many users require simple accessibility adjustments to empower themselves and best use a Mac. OS X's Accessibility options, accessed from System Preferences, permit tailoring special settings for vision and hearing impairments, plus additional interaction capabilities, such as voice controls. Here's a quick primer on accessing and adjusting OS X's Accessibility components.
OS X's Display options include inverting colors, specifying grayscale, and enhancing contrast. Users can also enlarge the cursor using the provided slider bar. Such adjustments assist many visually impaired users by helping them better view the Mac display and contents.
Zoom options enable the activation of keyboard shortcuts for controlling zooming in and out. Users can also zoom by using scroll gestures. An Options button, meanwhile, provides direct access to slider bars for setting minimum and maximum zoom ranges, among other features.
Visually impaired users can tap another helpful feature, VoiceOver, from the Accessibility System Preferences. OS X's VoiceOver feature, when activated, generates spoken descriptions for computer screen items. Additional VoiceOver configuration options, such as specifying speech voices, navigation aids, and Braille displays, are also accessible from the VoiceOver window.
Audio and Captions
Users can specify that OS X flash the screen when an alert sounds. Stereo audio can also be set for mono playback. Users and administrators can configure these changes in the Audio menu.
The Captions menu helps users trigger and customize subtitles and captions. A number of native OS X and other applications support subtitles, including iTunes, DVD Player, QuickTime Player, and HTML5 in Safari.
Users can customize keyboard settings and features like Sticky Keys and Slow Keys, which enable the configuration of modifier keys when a key is depressed for an extended period of time. Users can also set the delay between the time a key is pressed and when the key is actually activated. These settings are found within the Keyboard menu, and the features assist users in better manipulating keyboard input due to limited dexterity.
Mouse & Trackpad
Typical mouse and trackpad options, such as double-click and scrolling speeds, are found in the Mouse & Trackpad menu. A variety of slider bars are present to enable users to adjust the settings for individual use.
An interesting feature that many administrators don't know exists is OS X's Switch Control. Enabling this Accessibility feature permits users to leverage switches — a dedicated piece of hardware, specific keys, or other specialized devices — to enter text and interact with the Mac. Numerous configuration customizations are available from the Switch Control menu within the Accessibility System Preference console. Ultimately, this feature helps users who have limited mobility by giving them adaptive accessories to control their Mac. A special Panel Editor provides the ability to program even more customized switches. For information on how to configure and leverage Switch Control, visit Apple's website.
OS X supports the detection of voice commands to control the Mac, perform commands, and interact with applications and menus. The Speakable Items area, within the Accessibility System Preference, allows users to set speech recognition options (including the configuration of the Listening Key that alerts OS X to impending commands). Users can also specify which commands OS X should listen for, such as listening for Contact names, application-specific items, and even Menu Bar components.
What other accessibility options do you use for OS X? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.