Chapter 8. Customizing VoiceOver

This chapter explains how to customize your VoiceOver environment to suit your needs. You’ll learn how to customize settings for voices, spoken details, braille displays, pronunciations, and more. You’ll also learn how to reset, export, and import your preferences, as well as use portable preferences and VoiceOver activities.

Customize voice settings

Change the speaking voice used by VoiceOver, and settings such as rate or pitch.

  1. To hear the first setting, press VO-Command-Right Arrow.
  2. Continue to press VO-Command-Right Arrow until you hear the setting you want to adjust.
  3. To increase the setting’s value, press VO-Command-Up Arrow. To decrease the value, press VO-Command-Down Arrow.

    The new settings are applied only to the default voice.

You can set options for voices, and add compact or premium voices, in the Voices pane of the Speech category in VoiceOver Utility.

If you install voices that are compatible with OS X in your ~/Library/Speech/Voices folder, they appear in the list of available voices. To make the voices available to other users who have access to your Mac, install the voices in /Library/Speech/Voices.

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

Customize the verbosity level for speech or braille

By default, VoiceOver provides a high level of detail to help new Mac and VoiceOver users.

  1. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), click the Verbosity category, then click Speech or Braille (if you use a refreshable braille display).
  2. Choose a different default setting, and a verbosity level for specific controls, such as checkboxes or scroll areas.

Customize the Web rotor

Change the Web rotor to list only the items that you use most often to browse webpages, such as links or tables.

  1. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), click the Web category, then click Web Rotor.
  2. Select the checkbox for each item to include in the Web rotor. To change the order of items in the rotor, select an item, then press Command-Up Arrow or Command-Down Arrow.

The items you include in the rotor determine the statistics VoiceOver speaks in the webpage summary.

Customize how text and symbols are pronounced

Specify how you want VoiceOver to pronounce certain text or symbols by providing substitutions for them. For example, you can substitute “8 oh 2 dot eleven b” for “8 zero 2 point one one b.”

  1. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), click the Speech category, click Pronunciation, then click Add (+).
  2. In the new row, type the text whose pronunciation you want to customize, press Tab to move to the Substitution column, then type how you want VoiceOver to pronounce the text.
    • To specify an app where VoiceOver should use the pronunciation, choose the app from the pop-up menu.

      The menu lists open apps and Find App, so you can select an app that isn’t open. To use the pronunciation in any app, leave All Apps selected.

    • To have capitalization ignored, select the Ignore Case checkbox.

You can customize pronunciations by using the commanders to assign the Add Pronunciation command to a key or gesture. The command displays a dialog to add a new pronunciation, which is added to the list in the Pronunciation pane.

Create custom labels

Create or rename the label for user interface elements (such as images, buttons, tables, and more) and for links. You can export your custom labels to a file to share with other users.

  1. Position the VoiceOver cursor on the element or link for which you want to create a label.
  2. Press VO-/.
  3. In the dialog that’s displayed, type the label you want to use, then press Return.

When you create a custom label, VoiceOver associates pertinent information about the element or link and its location with your label. If the element or link changes in a significant way, such as moving to a new location, VoiceOver may not recognize it as the same element or link. If this happens, re-create the custom label.

You can’t create labels for scroll areas, toolbars, or groups.

When you import a preference file that contains custom labels, VoiceOver merges those labels with your current set of custom labels.

Assign VoiceOver commands to keys

Assign VoiceOver commands to the keys of your keyboard or the numeric keypad (if available).

To use the default key assignments, just enable the commanders.

  1. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), click the Commanders category, click NumPad or Keyboard, then enable the commander.
  2. Choose a modifier key.

    A modifier is optional for numeric keypad keys; you must use a modifier with keyboard keys.

  3. Interact with the commander table and navigate down the key column until you hear the key you want to customize.
  4. In the Command column, open the pop-up menu of commands, navigate the available commands until you hear the one you want, then press Return.

    Use the Custom Commands menu to assign scripts and Automator workflows to gestures.

    A screen shot of the NumPad Commander. The VoiceOver Utility window, 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. Commanders is the current category in the sidebar and the NumPad pane is selected on the right. At the top right of the NumPad pane is the Enable NumPad Commander checkbox, which is selected. To the right of that is the Modifier pop-up menu where No Modifier is selected. Below the checkbox and pop-up menu is a table with two columns, from left to right: NumPad Key, Command. The third row is selected and contains 3 in the NumPad Key column and on the right is a pop-up menu of command categories for assigning a command to the 3 key. The command categories from top to bottom are: General, Information, Navigation, Text, Web, Find, Tables, Size and Position, Audio, Braille, Visuals, Hot spots, Custom Commands. To the right of each category name is an arrow for displaying the commands in each category.

When the NumPad Commander is on, its commands are included in the VoiceOver Commands menu.

Reset preferences

Reset basic, custom (such as hot spots or Keyboard Commander key assignments), or all VoiceOver preferences to their default values.

Important:Export your preferences first, so you have a backup copy.

Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), choose File, then choose a reset command.

If your portable preferences are on a removable storage drive and you reset basic or all VoiceOver preferences on your Mac, VoiceOver no longer recognizes the drive and doesn’t sync VoiceOver preferences on your Mac and the drive. To sync VoiceOver preferences again, you must set up the portable preferences drive again.

Export and import preferences

Export all or specific VoiceOver preferences to a file as a backup copy.

Export preferences
  1. In VoiceOver Utility, choose File > Export Preferences.
  2. Select where to save the file, choose the type of preferences to export from the pop-up menu, then click Save.

    The default filename indicates the type of preferences exported and has the filename extension “voprefs.” The file will not reflect changes you make to preferences after the export.

Import preferences
  1. In VoiceOver Utility, choose File > Import Preferences.
  2. Select the preferences file to import, then click Open.

    VoiceOver replaces the current preferences of that type with those in the file. If you’re importing web spots or labels, VoiceOver merges them with your existing web spots or labels.

You can import preference files from VoiceOver in Mac OS X 10.5 or later. If a preference is no longer available in VoiceOver, it’s not imported.

Use portable preferences

Make your VoiceOver preferences “portable” by storing them on a removable storage device. You can then easily use your settings on other Mac computers and keep an up-to-date copy of your current settings always available.

Set up the portable preferences drive

Do this set of steps once for each removable drive you want to use.

  1. Insert the removable drive in your Mac.
  2. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), then choose File > Set Up Portable Preferences or click Set Up in the General category.
  3. Select a drive from the list of removable drives, then click OK.

    VoiceOver creates a VoiceOver folder on the drive.

Use the portable preferences drive

When you connect your portable preferences drive to a Mac, VoiceOver detects the drive and asks if you want to use it. How VoiceOver uses the portable preferences drive depends on the Mac you’re using:

If you’re using the Mac where you set up the drive: Any changes you make to VoiceOver preferences until you eject the drive are automatically saved to the drive. For example, if you increase the speech rate, your change is instantly saved to the portable preferences drive.

If you’re using another Mac (as a guest): VoiceOver uses the preferences stored on the drive. Any changes you make to VoiceOver preferences until you eject the drive are automatically saved to the drive and not to the guest computer. The next time you use the drive on the Mac where it was set up, VoiceOver synchronizes preferences on the Mac and the drive, based on the most recent change to a preference.

Stop using the portable preferences drive

When you’re done, eject the portable preferences drive using the Finder, or click Stop in the General category in VoiceOver Utility (in this case, the drive is not ejected).

If you choose not to use the portable preferences drive when VoiceOver asks you, but later want to use it, open VoiceOver Utility, then click Start in the General category. If you choose to always use the portable preferences drive, but later want to use it only sometimes, delete the preferences file from the drive, then set up the portable preferences drive again.

If you have portable preferences on a removable storage drive and you reset basic or all VoiceOver preferences on your Mac, you must set up the portable preferences drive again.

Use VoiceOver activities

Use VoiceOver activities to create groups of preferences for specific uses. For example, create an activity to use a certain voice and faster speaking rate when you shop online, then create a second activity to use a different voice and slower speaking rate when you read online articles.

Set up activities
  1. Open VoiceOver Utility (press VO-F8 when VoiceOver is on), click the Activities category, then click Add (+) to create an activity.
  2. Type a name for the activity, such as “Online Shopping.”

    To rename an activity, select the activity in the table, press Enter, then type a new name.

  3. For each preference you want to customize for this activity, select the checkbox, then click Set.

    To show all the preferences you can include, click the disclosure triangle to the far right of Hot Spots.

  4. To have VoiceOver automatically use the activity for certain apps, click the Select Apps button, then choose apps from the list, or browse for apps.

    An app can be associated with only one activity. If you select an app that’s associated with another activity, you’re asked if you want to change it.

    To disassociate an app, select it again; the checkmark next to its name is removed.

Use an activity