How to use VoiceOver on macOS and Apple

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Cliff Weitzman
By Cliff Weitzman Dyslexia & Accessibility Advocate, CEO/Founder of Speechify in VoiceOver on June 27, 2022
VoiceOver is one of the most popular screen readers for Apple devices. Read on to learn how to use it.

    Text to speech is one of the valuable accessibility tools for individuals with learning difficulties or vision impairment. The text to speech technology turns written texts into speech, thus ensuring anyone can understand them, regardless of the user’s reading abilities.

    This technology also makes using computers much easier. One example of a program that features the text to speech option is VoiceOver. In this article, we’ll discuss what VoiceOver is and offer instructions on how to use some of its features.

    What is VoiceOver?

    VoiceOver is a screen reading program designed by Apple for the Mac OS X operating system.

    The program is available on all Apple devices, including iPads, iPhones, Apple Watches, and iPods.

    VoiceOver reads everything that appears on your screen. For example, if you launch Safari, visit a web page, and enable VoiceOver, the program will read everything aloud, starting from the address bar.

    The screen reader registers headings, checkboxes, notifications, help menus, toolbars, the Finder sidebar, and anything else that can be found on your screen.

    VoiceOver is compatible with multi-functional trackpads and refreshable braille displays.

    Those using the program for the first time will see a welcome dialog when they launch the app. Here, they can choose whether they want a quick tutorial or an interactive tour of the program.

    How to use VoiceOver – The guide

    Using VoiceOver mostly revolves around different keyboard commands. Thanks to these commands, users can navigate their computer screen without using a cursor. Of course, the Voiceover cursor is always available to those who like using it.

    Users can also customize their commands. To do this, they need to access VoiceOver Utility and use one modifier key and one key of their choosing.

    Here are the basic instructions for using VoiceOver:

    Activating VoiceOver

    There are several ways to activate VoiceOver. One way is to launch the Apple Menu and go to “System Preferences.”

    Since VoiceOver is compatible with Siri, you can use it to activate the program. All you need to do is say, “Siri, turn on VoiceOver.”

    You can press Command + F5 to turn VoiceOver on.

    If your Mac device has Touch ID, you can press and hold the Command key and press the Touch ID three times to launch VoiceOver.

    The basic keyboard shortcuts

    As mentioned, VoiceOver features numerous keyboard combinations that make using the app easy. These combinations usually involve control and option keys (VO keys) and function keys, arrow keys, letters, and other keys. Here are a few basic shortcuts users should remember:

    • Control – Pause
    • Control + Option + Right arrow key – Read one element at a time
    • Control + Option + A – Resume reading
    • Tab key – Navigate links and form controls
    • VO keys (Control and Option) + H – Access the Help menu
    • VO + H+ H – Access the Commands menu
    • VO + F1 – Application summary
    • VO + F2 – Window summary
    • VO + Space bar – Select a checkbox
    • Down arrow/up arrow – Navigate lists
    • VO + Left arrow – Read the previous item
    • VO + Right arrow – Read the next item
    • VO + M – Go to the Menu bar

    The rotor

    The VoiceOver rotor is used to navigate by granularity levels like characters, words, or lines. It also differentiates between headings, form controls, and links. The rotor can be used to adjust different settings.

    Essentially, the VoiceOver rotor is a circular dial that can be turned by placing two fingers on the screen and rotating them. You can also place one finger on the screen and use a finger on the other hand to make a circular motion.

    The rotor consists of different lists. Once you find the list you’re looking for, navigate the items by swiping up or down.

    For example, if you place your finger on the Google app, turn the rotor to characters, and swipe down once, VoiceOver will read aloud the first character (G).

    VoiceOver commands for iPhone

    As mentioned, iPhone users can enjoy the benefits of the VoiceOver app. When VoiceOver is enabled, the usual gestures can have different meanings, and you can use additional gestures.

    Most VoiceOver commands on iPhones involve two-, three-, or four-finger taps and swipes. Here are some commands:

    • Tapping an item – Select and speak the item
    • Swipe right/Swipe left – Select the next/previous item
    • Two-finger swipe left/right – Move into/out of a group of items
    • Four-finger tap near the top of the screen – Select the first item on the screen
    • Four-finger tap near the bottom of the screen – Select the last item on the screen

    Changing speaking rate

    Here’s how you can change the speaking rate:

    1. Go to Settings.
    2. Press “Accessibility.”
    3. Go to “VoiceOver.”

    Drag the slider below “Speaking Rate” to configure the rate of speech. As you move the slider to the right, the speech rate will be faster.

    Changing pitch

    Follow these instructions to enable the pitch change in VoiceOver:

    1. Launch Settings.
    2. Go to “Accessibility.”
    3. Select “VoiceOver.”
    4. Press “Speech.”
    5. Switch the toggle button next to “Use Pitch Change.”

    When you enable this, VoiceOver will use a higher pitch for the first item in a group and a lower pitch for the last item.

    Pairing VoiceOver with Siri

    Siri is another accessibility feature available on Apple devices. This voice assistant works great with VoiceOver. With Siri, you can use voice commands to enable and disable VoiceOver. You can also use Siri to make phone calls, write messages, and activate different settings.

    Speechify – The Apple VoiceOver alternative

    VoiceOver is an excellent screen reader. However, it’s not perfect. While having a wide range of features is an advantage, it can also be a drawback. Many say the program has a steep learning curve.

    While this may be acceptable for those who will use all or most of the features, it’s often a deal-breaker for individuals who only want to use one or two options.

    If you only need the text to speech option, Speechify can be an excellent VoiceOver alternative. Speechify is a high-quality text to speech platform that can turn almost any written text into natural-sounding speech.

    Thanks to cutting-edge AI, Speechify can also turn any hard copy of a document or text into speech. Simply scan the images of the document or text and let the program do its magic.

    Speechify isn’t limited to a particular operating system. You can use it on your laptop, computer, or mobile device. The platform is compatible with Microsoft Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.

    Try Speechify for free and enjoy its numerous benefits.

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    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman

    Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.