Chapter 2. Learning VoiceOver Basics

This chapter provides information about the basics of using VoiceOver, including how to get help while you’re learning. You’ll learn how to turn VoiceOver on and off and pause it, how to hear information about items on the screen and interact with them, and how to use cursor tracking.

Turn VoiceOver on and off

You can turn VoiceOver on and off at any time; you don’t have to restart your computer or log in again.

If you select “Show Universal Access status in the menu bar” in Universal Access preferences, you can use the status menu in the menu bar to see whether VoiceOver is on or off.

The first time you start VoiceOver, you can choose to take the Quick Start tutorial, an interactive tour of VoiceOver navigation and interaction basics. When VoiceOver is on, you can start the tutorial at any time by pressing VO-Command-F8.

Automatically use VoiceOver in the login window

You can select an option in System Preferences to automatically use VoiceOver in the Mac OS X login window.

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, and then click Users & Groups.

    If Users & Groups preferences are locked, click the lock icon in the lower-left corner of the window and type an administrator password to unlock them.

  2. In the account list, move the VoiceOver cursor to Login Options and press VO-Space bar.
  3. In the login options, press VO-Right Arrow to navigate to the “Use VoiceOver in the login window” checkbox, and then press VO-Space bar to select it.

You can turn on VoiceOver in the login window yourself by pressing Command-F5.

Pause and resume speech

When VoiceOver is speaking, you can temporarily pause the speech, and then resume where the speaking left off.

If you move the VoiceOver cursor after you pause the speech, VoiceOver begins speaking the item that’s now in the VoiceOver cursor.

Use the welcome dialog

When you first turn on VoiceOver, a welcome dialog is displayed.

If you chose to not display the welcome dialog again, but you change your mind and want it to be displayed, open VoiceOver Utility, click the General category, and select the “Display welcome dialog when VoiceOver starts” checkbox.

Use the VoiceOver Help menu

When VoiceOver is on, you can open the VoiceOver Help menu to learn more about using VoiceOver and to access commands for the item in the VoiceOver cursor.

A screen shot of the VoiceOver Help menu. A panel with a black background and white text, titled VoiceOver Help. The Help menu includes these items, from top to bottom: Online Help, Commands Help, Keyboard Help, Sounds Help, Quick Start Tutorial, Getting Started Guide. To the right of each item is the command you use to display the item, or an arrow to access an item’s submenu.
  1. When VoiceOver is on, open the VoiceOver Help menu by pressing VO-H.

    The VoiceOver menu appears on the screen. To increase or decrease the menu’s font size, press the } or { key.

  2. Navigate the menu and submenus using the arrow keys.
    • If you know the name of a menu item, type some letters of its name to narrow the menu to only items that contain those letters. To list all the items again, press the Delete key.
    • You hear the number of items a submenu contains when you enter the submenu.
    • If a menu item has a keyboard command, you hear it announced with the name of the item. Next time, you can use the keyboard command without having to open the VoiceOver Help menu. For example, to directly access the Commands menu, you can press VO-H-H.
    • To copy a menu item, select it and press Command-C. VoiceOver confirms the item was copied. You can then paste the item where needed.
  3. To select a menu item, press the Space bar or the Return key.

    To close the VoiceOver Help menu without making a selection, press the Escape key.

Find commands using the Commands menu

If you know the name of a VoiceOver command you want to use but can’t recall the keys to press, you can use the Commands menu to find the command, and apply it to the item currently in the VoiceOver cursor.

A screen shot of the Commands Help menu. A panel with a black background and white text, titled Commands Help. The menu includes these items, from top to bottom: General, Information, Navigation, Text, Web, Find, Tables, Size and Position, Audio, Braille, Visuals, Hot spots, NumPad Commander, Keyboard Commander, Trackpad Commander. To the right of each item is an arrow to access the item’s submenu.
  1. When VoiceOver is on, open the Commands menu by pressing VO-H-H.
  2. Type some letters of the command name to narrow the Commands menu to just those commands that contain the letters you typed.

    Use the arrow keys to navigate the Commands menu until you hear the command you want. To list all commands again, press Delete.

  3. When you hear the command you want to use, press the Return key or the Space bar to apply the command to the item in the VoiceOver cursor.

Lock and unlock the VO keys

VoiceOver commands are entered by pressing the Control and Option keys (the VO keys) with function keys, arrow keys, and other keys. For example, to open the VoiceOver Help menu, press VO-H.

For convenience, you can lock the VO keys so you don’t have to press them while entering commands; all you need to press are the remaining keys for the command. For example, when the VO keys are locked, you can press H alone to open the VoiceOver Help menu.

If you’re not familiar with the location of special keys on your keyboard, use keyboard help.

Make VoiceOver Ignore the next key press

Some applications use the Control and Option keys (the VO keys) together with another key to perform an action. If you’re using VoiceOver and want to use the application’s command, you can type a command that tells VoiceOver to ignore the next key combination.

Press VO-Tab. VoiceOver will ignore the next key combination you press.

You can change many keyboard shortcuts for Mac OS X applications and other applications in the Keyboard Shortcuts pane of Keyboard preferences.

Learn keys, shortcuts, and gestures with keyboard help

Using keyboard help, you can press any key to hear its name, or type any keyboard shortcut to hear the VoiceOver command it represents. You can also use keyboard help for help with:

While you’re using keyboard help, you can’t use your keyboard, braille display, or trackpad for other tasks.

Start keyboard help

With VoiceOver on, press VO-K.

Hear the name of a keyboard or braille key

Press the key. For example, press the D key to hear “d.”

Hear the VoiceOver command for a key

Press Control-Option and the key. For example, press Control-Option-D to hear “Control-Option-D Go to Dock Moves VoiceOver cursor to the Dock.”

Hear the name and VoiceOver command for a gesture

Use the gesture. For example, double-tap to hear “Double Tap Perform Action for Item Performs the default action on the item in the VoiceOver cursor.”

Hear alternative functions for a key or gesture

Some keys and gestures perform alternative functions when you press modifier keys such as Shift, Control, Option, or Command.

For keys, try pressing Control-Option with a modifier key and then press a key to hear what other functions the key may have.

Quit keyboard help

Press the Escape key, located in the upper-left corner of the keyboard.

If you have trouble using your computer’s standard QWERTY keyboard, you can switch the keyboard to Dvorak layout, which optimizes key layout for typing comfort and ease of use.

If you have difficulty pressing more than one key at a time, you can turn on Sticky Keys to help you use a combination of modifier keys as a sequence.

Learn VoiceOver sound effects

In addition to the set of sounds used in Mac OS X, VoiceOver uses a variety of unique sound effects to denote events (such as a window opening) and locations (such as when you reach a border). You can listen to a description of the sounds to help you learn their meanings.

  1. Open the VoiceOver Help menu by pressing VO-H.
  2. Navigate down the menu to Sounds Help and then press the Right Arrow key.
  3. Use the Down Arrow and Up Arrow keys to navigate the list and hear each sound effect and its description.

    To repeat a sound effect and description, press the Space bar.

  4. When you’re done, press the Escape key to close the VoiceOver menu.

Hear hints and information about an item

VoiceOver provides several ways to learn more about the item in the VoiceOver cursor.

Descriptions, help tags, and instructions are displayed in the caption panel and braille panel, if the panels are open.

A webpage can contain keyboard shortcuts, called “access keys,” to web items such as links or buttons. VoiceOver detects access keys and can describe them (if you chose to have help tags spoken). For example, when VoiceOver detects an access key on a link, it might say “Access key available: s,” where “s” is the access key. You can then press Control-S to open the link.

Hear about items using function keys

You can use the F1 through F6 keys with the VO keys (the Control and Option keys) to hear information about items on which the VoiceOver cursor, keyboard, or mouse pointer is focused.

Press

To hear

VO-F1

The application summary, describing the application that is currently active and the number of other applications that are open.

VO-F2

The window summary, describing the active window.

VO-F3

The item on which the VoiceOver cursor is focused. The description includes the current state of the item, such as whether a checkbox is selected, or the percent value of a slider.

If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, tap three times to hear the item in the VoiceOver cursor. If there is no item, a sound effect indicates a blank area on the screen.

VO-Command-F3

The size of the item in the VoiceOver cursor.

VO-Command-F3-F3

The position of the item in the VoiceOver cursor.

VO-F4

The item on which the keyboard is focused. The description includes the current state of the item.

VO-F4-F4

The location of the insertion point relative to the upper-left corner of the text item in which the insertion point is located. For example, you might hear “Insertion point is two inches right, five inches down from top-left corner of edit text.”

VO-F5

The item on which the mouse pointer is focused. The description includes the current state of the item.

VO-F5-F5

The location of the mouse pointer as x and y coordinates on the screen, relative to the upper-left corner of the screen.

VO-F5-F5-F5

The location of the mouse pointer as x and y coordinates relative to the current window.

VO-F6

The item that is currently selected (such as a folder or text in a document).

You can also use positional audio to hear sound effects to help locate the VoiceOver cursor on the screen.

Hear an item’s location on the screen

If you have stereo headphones or dual speakers, you can use positional audio to hear audio cues (or sound effects) about an item’s location on the screen. This option is on by default.

  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click Sound in the category table, and then select the “Enable positional audio” checkbox.

If you have chosen to play stereo audio as mono audio in Universal Access preferences, you can’t hear positional audio using VoiceOver.

You can hear the position of the item on the screen by pressing VO-Command-F3-F3.

Hear changes in progress or status

You can hear when the progress bar or status text in the VoiceOver cursor changes. For example, while installing software, you might hear “Installation 45 percent completed” or you might hear a ticking sound.

Using a VoiceOver command (for status text only)
  1. To open the rotor to verbosity settings, press VO-V.

    These settings include typing echo, punctuation, and text attributes, among others.

  2. Press the Left Arrow or Right Arrow key until you hear “when status changes.” You also hear the current setting.
  3. Press the Up Arrow or Down Arrow key until you hear the setting you want: Play Tone, Speak, or Do Nothing.
  4. To close the rotor, press Escape.
Using VoiceOver Utility
  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click Verbosity in the category table, and then click Announcements.
  3. Select options for status text and progress indicator changes.

    For a description of the options, click the Help button in the lower-right corner.

If you’re using portable preferences on a guest computer when you change settings, the settings are saved to the portable preferences drive and not to the guest computer.

Interact with content areas

Windows, documents, and webpages have different areas that contain text, files, or other content. When the VoiceOver cursor reaches one of these areas, it identifies the content area. For example, VoiceOver may identify scroll areas, HTML content, lists, outlines, tables, groups, or text areas.

You can navigate past a content area or you can stop and interact with it to read its contents. For example, in a Finder window you can navigate past the sidebar to get to the view browser, or you can interact with the sidebar to open folders and files.

You can also interact with any element that has a title or embedded text, such as a pop-up button or a Smart Address in Mail, so VoiceOver can read the element by word or by character.

Start interacting

Press VO-Shift-Down Arrow. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, flick right with two fingers.

Stop interacting

Press VO-Shift-Up Arrow. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, flick left with two fingers.

You can interact and stop interacting with an area as many times as necessary. When there’s nothing more to interact with, you’ll hear a sound effect.

The VoiceOver cursor stays within the boundaries of the area you’re interacting with, so you can navigate only within the area.

Select and deselect items

You can select and deselect a single item or multiple items.

Select a single item

When cursor tracking is off, press VO-Command-F4. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, double-tap.

Select multiple items
  1. Interact with a list or table, and then press VO-Command-Space bar.

    You can now select multiple items.

  2. For each item you want to select, navigate to the item and press VO-Command-Space bar.

    The item is selected.

  3. When you’re done selecting items, copy or cut the items, press the Escape key, or stop interacting with the list or table.

    You can no longer select multiple items.

Deselect a single item

Press VO-Command-Space bar. If you’re using VoiceOver gestures, double-tap.

Deselect multiple items

Navigate to one of the items and press VO-Command-F4. To deselect the last and current item, press VO-Command-Space bar.

To hear the current selection at any time, press VO-F6.

Hear when modifier keys are pressed

You can set VoiceOver to speak the names of modifier keys (Shift, Control, Option, Command, and Fn) when you press them. Turning on this option may help you become accustomed to the location of modifier keys on your keyboard, and prevent you from making mistakes.

  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click Verbosity in the category table, and then click Announcements.
  3. Select the “Announce when a modifier key is pressed” checkbox.

Drag and drop items

You can drag and drop items from one location to another using VoiceOver commands or the mouse. Both the original and destination locations must be on the screen when you start dragging the items.

Using commands
  1. Move the VoiceOver cursor to the item you want to move and press VO-, to mark the item for drag and drop.
  2. Move the VoiceOver cursor to the location where you want to drop the marked item.
  3. Use one of the following commands to drop the marked item on, before, or after the location of the VoiceOver cursor:
    • To insert the marked item on the cursor location, press VO-.
    • To insert the marked item in front of the cursor location, press VO-<.
    • To insert the marked item after the cursor location, press VO->.
Using the mouse

You can use the mouse to drag and drop files with mouse tracking turned on or off.

  1. Move the VoiceOver cursor to the item you want to move.

    If mouse tracking is off, press VO-Command-F5 to route the VoiceOver cursor to the target location.

  2. Verify that the mouse is on the item by pressing VO-F5.
  3. Lock the mouse button by pressing VO-Command-Shift-Space bar.
  4. Move the VoiceOver cursor to the target location.

    If mouse tracking is off, press VO-Command-F5 to route the mouse to the target location.

  5. Verify that the mouse is on the target location by pressing VO-F5.
  6. Unlock the mouse button by pressing VO-Command-Shift-Space bar.

Turn off cursor tracking

The VoiceOver cursor and keyboard focus are set to follow (or “track”) each other. You can turn off VoiceOver cursor tracking to work with the keyboard, mouse pointer, and insertion point independently. For example, with cursor tracking off, you can leave the keyboard focused in a document you’re working on and move the VoiceOver cursor elsewhere, without losing your place in your document.

  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click Navigation, and then deselect these checkboxes:

    Keyboard focus follows VoiceOver cursor

    VoiceOver cursor follows keyboard focus

    Insertion point follows VoiceOver cursor

    VoiceOver cursor follows insertion point

  3. From the “Mouse pointer” pop-up menu, choose “Ignores VoiceOver cursor.”

When you’re working with cursor tracking off, you can use quick commands to move one cursor to where the other is located.

To temporarily turn cursor tracking on or off while you’re working, press VO-Shift-F3. This command doesn’t change the settings in VoiceOver Utility; it just switches them on or off until you press the command again.

Work with cursor tracking turned off

When you’re working with cursor tracking off, you can use quick commands to move one cursor to where the other is located.

Turn on cursor tracking for the mouse

You can turn on cursor tracking for the mouse so that the focus of the mouse pointer and the VoiceOver cursor match.

  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Click Navigation in the category table, and then choose an option from the “Mouse pointer” pop-up menu:
    • To make the mouse pointer move with the VoiceOver cursor, choose “Follows VoiceOver cursor.”
    • To make the VoiceOver cursor follow the mouse pointer, choose “Moves VoiceOver cursor.”

Customize VoiceOver with VoiceOver Utility

VoiceOver Utility is the application you use to customize VoiceOver settings to best suit your needs. It contains an easy-to-navigate list of categories for setting preferences and options.

A screen shot of the VoiceOver Utility window. The VoiceOver Utility window is divided vertically into two parts. A sidebar on the left lists categories, preceded by an icon, and an area on the right shows options for the currently selected category. Navigation is the current category in the sidebar and navigation options are displayed on the right. At the bottom right corner of the window is a Help button for displaying the VoiceOver online help topic which explains the options. A Help button is available on every VoiceOver Utility window or pane.

When you select a category on the left side of the VoiceOver Utility window, the options available to you appear on the right side. Some categories are organized into panes, which are listed across the top of the right side. You can navigate among the categories and panes using a mouse, the arrow keys, the View menu, keyboard shortcuts, or gestures.

You can use commands in the menu bar to export and import preferences, set up portable preferences, and reset all or some preferences to their default settings.

You can use the search field in the toolbar to quickly locate and go directly to a specific option.

Open VoiceOver Utility

Do one of the following:

Each category or pane contains a Help button in the lower-right corner. Click the button to open VoiceOver online help and read a description of each option in that category or pane.

Search VoiceOver Utility

You can search VoiceOver Utility to quickly find and go to specific options, instead of navigating the various categories and panes.

  1. When VoiceOver is on, open VoiceOver Utility by pressing VO-F8.
  2. Interact with the toolbar and then, in the search field, type the option you’re looking for. For example, start typing “caption” or “braille.”

    As you type, possible matches in VoiceOver Utility are listed below the search field.

  3. To navigate the list of search results, press VO-Down Arrow or VO-Up Arrow.

    For each search result, VoiceOver Utility displays the pane where the option is located and spotlights the option.

  4. To select a result, press the Return key.