Mac OS – Accessibility Features
As well as being a lover of computer games, I am also an avid Mac user, having been bought one as an 18th birthday present! Julian from Aidis is going to follow up this post with a review of accessibility on the iPhone, but for now I am going to take you through a rundown of the Mac’s accessibility features, and also explain how I make use of them myself.
Visual Impairment Accessibility
The Mac has many accessibility features for users with different disabilities, which is brilliant. As a visually impaired person myself, I make use of both VoiceOver and Zoom. VoiceOver is a screen narration system, which not only converts text to speech but also tells you exactly what is going on on the screen of your Mac, including using some audio description which is great. Zoom is a state-of-the-art magnification system, which you can customise to your specific needs. For example, I have customised it so that the screen moves only when the cursor touches an edge. You can also make the cursor size bigger, making it much easier to see, so making access a lot easier.
The only feature I haven’t tried is Dictation which is a voice recognition system, so that you can speak where you would otherwise type. As a fluent touch typist, I myself do not particularly need this feature; however, I can see how it could be useful for some with visual impairment or maybe those with learning or cognitive disabilities. There are also invert colours and Braille displays, neither of which I have made use of but they could be very helpful for some users.
Hearing Impairment Access
There are a few different features on Macs which make them accessible to hearing impaired or deaf users. Facetime is brilliant for those users who use sign language to communicate; closed captions are available on a Mac right through to films which have the CC mark which can be bought on the iTunes store. You can also customise these closed captions with font and colour, as well as text size. Messages with iMessage are good too, as you can simply type without needing to hear or speak. FlashScreen is great, as where there would normally be a noise from the computer system, you can assign a ‘flash’ option when an app needs your attention. MonoAudio allows you to adjust the volume of the stereo output in both or either ears of your headphones so that you can get the most out of the hearing that you have.
Mobility Impaired Access
There are many different options for users with impaired mobility. Switch Control technology allows the user to control everything from the keyboard to the mouse to the Dock with a technique commonly known as ‘scanning.’ You can make use of a collection of adaptive devices, including keyboards, a joystick, a switch, or even a single tap on the Multi-touch trackpad. SlowKeys adjusts the sensitivity of the keyboard, slowing down the key strokes that you make so that you only press the keys which you mean to, and StickyKeys combines the keystrokes you make, allowing you to press one key at a time to make up different key commands. Lastly, with Speakable Items, you can speak to the Mac instead of using the keyboard to do things like minimizing windows or opening programmes – and you don’t even have to train the Mac to do it! You can also use MouseKeys, where you use the keyboard to control the mouse if you have difficulty with using it, and OnScreen Keyboard allows you to use a pointing device to control the keyboard that is on the screen as opposed to a physical one. Whilst I have not tried out any of these controls myself, they sound similar to Microsoft’s Windows accessibility options.
Learning Disability Access
There are a few different functions which can make the Mac easier to access for people with learning or cognitive disabilities. Simple Finder allows a parent or carer to set the Mac up so that it only has three folders in use on the Dock and you can also edit lists of apps to minimize the amount that the person can open. Files, folders and apps can be arranged into a single window so they are easier to find. You can look up words using the Dictionary feature which helps with language, understanding and communication. With Text to Speech, you can highlight any form of text and Alex (the voice on VoiceOver and my personal favourite voice!) can read it aloud to you. Word Completion can be used in WordEdit, Pages and other similar apps. After typing a few letters, you can press the escape key and a list of words appears on the screen and you can select the word you want to use. Finally, FaceTime allows you to communicate visually, using either sign language, facial expression or gesture, aiding communication in a variety of ways.
With these differing options for accessibility on the Mac computer, almost anyone can adapt the Mac to suit their individual needs. I have had a great experience using the MacBook Pro myself, and could not think of a better computer to be using. I especially love the Zoon features, and Alex, the synthesised voice in VoiceOver, and I, became good friends through my music technology A-Level! Although Macs are relatively costly, I think that they are a brilliant investment, and with the amount of accessibility features available, there’s nothing to stop you!
Tags: Assistive Technology
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