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OS X comes with a variety of assistive technologies to help those with vision disabilities, including a built-in screen reader, screen and cursor magnification, high-contrast settings, and more.
Every new Mac includes an advanced, full-featured screen-access technology that makes it possible for those who are blind or have low vision to control their computer. It’s called VoiceOver and it’s built into the OS X operating system, so it’s preinstalled and ready to use right out of the box. VoiceOver is much more than simply a text-to-speech tool. It uses speech to describe what is happening on your computer, and you can use it to control the computer without seeing the screen.
Learn more about VoiceOver
The Alex voice
Introducing Alex, the voice of the Mac. Alex uses advanced Apple technologies to deliver natural intonation in English even at extraordinarily fast speaking rates. While most text-to-speech (TTS) systems analyze and synthesize text one sentence at a time, OS X analyzes text a paragraph at a time and deciphers the context more accurately. In addition, Alex more closely matches the nuances of human speech, so you can more easily understand the meaning of longer text passages in books, articles, and news stories. Alex is so natural he even breathes between long passages.
In addition to keyboard control, VoiceOver is the first screen reader you can control using gestures on an Apple Multi-Touch trackpad. The trackpad is a touch-sensitive surface that can represent the active window on your computer screen. So you can touch it to hear the item under your finger, drag to hear items continuously as you move your finger, and flick with one finger to move to the next or previous item. The gestures are easy to learn and fun to use, and there’s even a practice mode. With VoiceOver you’ll have a brand-new sense of how items are arranged and interrelated on a web page, in a spreadsheet, in a presentation, or in any document. Learn more about VoiceOver gestures
VoiceOver in OS X Lion includes built-in voices that speak 22 languages: Arabic, English, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French (France), German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish (Spain), Swedish, Turkish, Cantonese, Mandarin (China), and Mandarin (Taiwan). In addition, there are other languages available for download including Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Romanian, Slovak, and Thai, as well as alternative voices with differing dialects such as English (UK), English (Australia), English (South Africa), and Spanish (Mexico).
VoiceOver is the first screen reader to provide true plug-and-play support for braille displays. It includes software drivers for over 40 USB and wireless braille displays, so they start working instantly when you connect them. But that’s not all. Through a unique feature called braille mirroring, VoiceOver is the only screen reader that supports more than one braille device at a time — up to 32 braille displays connected simultaneously to the same computer. This enables you to share what you’re working on with others who read braille, just as sighted users can share their computer screen using a video projector. Learn more about braille display support
International braille tables
OS X Lion includes built-in support for more than 80 new braille tables supporting a wide range of languages.
VoiceOver is unique because it’s not a standalone screen reader. It’s integrated into the OS X operating system. So, as developers update their applications to take advantage of the accessibility interfaces provided by Apple, the applications can start working with VoiceOver right away. There’s no need for a new version of VoiceOver. VoiceOver already works with a wide range of applications — word processors, spreadsheets, browsers, audio software, utilities, and more, including those built into OS X. Learn more about VoiceOver-compatible applications
Zoom is a built-in, full-screen magnifier that can magnify the items on the screen up to 40 times. You can activate it using keyboard commands, a button on the screen, a trackpad gesture, or the scroll ball (or wheel) on a mouse. Thanks to the powerful Quartz rendering engine in OS X, text, graphics, and even motion video can be magnified without affecting system performance.
There are three options for how the screen image moves as you type or move the mouse cursor. It can move continuously as you move the cursor; it can move only when the cursor reaches the edge of the screen; or it can move so that the cursor remains in the middle of the screen — great for those with a narrow field of vision. It’s also possible to set a minimum and maximum magnification value for instant zooming to a particular magnification and to prevent the magnification from going too high or low, leaving the system unreadable.
Independent of Zoom magnification, the cursor can also be magnified so it’s easier to see and follow when you move the mouse. The cursor remains scaled to the preferred size even when the cursor shape changes and scaling remains in effect until you change it, even when you log out, shut down, or restart your Mac. You can use cursor scaling in concert with Zoom and other OS X features, allowing you to adapt the computer for your specific needs.
The screen zoom feature in OS X features a picture-in-picture view, allowing you to see the zoomed area in a separate window while keeping the rest of the screen at its native size. Choose to have the window follow the cursor, or keep the window in one place to show only areas you navigate.
High Contrast and Reverse Video
OS X includes flexible adjustments for changing the characteristics of your display. There are settings to increase and decrease contrast, remove color (switch to grayscale) and even reverse the video to white-on-black or black-on-white. These settings do not rely on applications to support them, and they also apply systemwide so you are assured of a consistent view in every application.
Safari Reader removes visual distractions from online articles so you can focus on the content. As you browse the web, Safari detects if you’re on a web page with an article. Click the Reader icon in the Smart Address Field, and the article appears instantly in one continuous, clutter-free view. You see every page of the article — whether two or twenty. The onscreen controls let you easily zoom in on the article, great for users with low vision. Because Safari Reader presents multipage articles as one, continuous view, VoiceOver users can listen to the article without any interruptions.
OS X offers four ways to view files and folders to suit the needs of every user. You can choose among icon view, list view, column view, and Cover Flow view. VoiceOver users may enjoy the convenience of list view, while users with low vision may prefer icon view or Cover Flow view. Icon view can display file icons that preview their contents and are adjustable up to 512 pixels in size using a slider control. Cover Flow view also provides extremely large previews of folder contents. Files appear just as they will appear when opened in an application. You can increase the preview size in Cover Flow view by resizing the window and dragging the splitter bar.
For each Finder view, you can adjust the appearance of items in a window using View Options (Command-J). For example, in icon view, the size of icons can be increased up to 512 pixels, and the size of text labels from 10 to 16 points. The spacing between icons can be adjusted. Each time you open the window, it reflects the changes you’ve made even when the content changes.
The background of any folder, normally white, can be changed to any color to make it more distinct, create higher contrast, and address the needs of those with color sensitivity.
View Options can be applied to the contents of a specific folder or to every folder that shares the same view (icon, list, column, or Cover Flow). Because they’re independent of other Universal Access settings, such as Zoom, you can combine Finder View Options and Universal Access settings in a variety of useful ways.
The Dock offers a convenient way to access commonly used applications, files, and folders. As you drag items into the Dock, it automatically resizes to accommodate new items. Though the icons can be quite small if you add a great many items, OS X lets you set the default size of Dock icons so they're easier to see and provides Dock Magnification, which automatically enlarges the icon you’re pointing to.
When an application needs your attention, Talking Alerts automatically speak the contents of dialogs and alerts.
OS X includes a talking calculator that speaks each button you press and the results of the calculation. It has three modes: a simple calculator, a scientific calculator, and a programmer’s calculator.
If you’d like the time of day spoken to you, you can instruct your Mac to speak it automatically — on the hour, half hour, or quarter hour. Or you can use a voice command to have your Mac speak the time of day whenever you like.
Converting Text to Speech
If you don’t use a screen reader, but can benefit from hearing text on your computer screen spoken to you, you can use Text to Speech. To enable Text to Speech, open the Speech pane in System Preferences. By default, pressing Option-Escape will start and stop speaking selected text, but you can also choose a different key combination.
Using the Services menu, you can save speech output as a spoken track in iTunes. Then you can play the spoken text again later, add it to a playlist, and even sync it to an iPod so you can listen to it on the go. Just select the text and choose “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track” from the application’s Services menu. To add this command to the Services menu, choose Services Preferences in an application’s Services menu, click the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, then select Services. There you’ll find many commands you can add to the Services menu, including “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.”
Safari and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
The Safari web browser included with OS X features additional Universal Access preferences for web browsing. For example, a checkbox can be selected to prevent a web page from being displayed using fonts smaller than the minimum size you set, from 9 to 24 point. By default, pressing the Tab key in Safari navigates only the toolbar and the form elements on a page. Pressing Option-Tab navigates every element. If you prefer, you can change this behavior so that pressing the Tab key navigates every element and pressing Option-Tab navigates only the toolbar and form elements.
Using the Style Sheet pop-up menu in Safari preferences, you can apply a custom Cascading Style Sheet, or CSS, that changes the way a website is displayed without requiring any changes to the website. You can affect the way pages are displayed, including color, font size, number of columns, and much more, using standard HTML commands. Using CSS is a great way to customize the appearance of web pages to suit your needs. Learn more about CSS from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
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