Opening access: VoiceOver, spoken and Braille guidance

VoiceOver is a sub-system within the Accessibility pane which can provide you with spoken, visual, and Braille information and guidance, which you navigate using the keyboard and/or other input devices.

Primarily intended for those with limited vision, few if any of its features are likely to be of more general use. If you won’t find VoiceOver of general benefit, it is probably not worth combing its Utility to find any hidden gem.


The VoiceOver section in Accessibility provides one control – to turn VoiceOver on and off – and two buttons. The left takes you to a valuable VoiceOver-based training package which will help you understand what it can do, and how to control it. Once you have worked through that, you can click on the right button, which opens VoiceOver Utility with its full set of controls.

vogeneralThe General section sets some global preferences which are largely self-explanatory. The strange one here is for Portable Preferences. Given the irresistable rise of iCloud and cloud-based sharing, it is a surprise that taking your VoiceOver preferences with you requires a portable external storage device, perhaps a USB memory stick, and there is currently no iCloud support.

voverbosityVerbosity settings are very important. One of the potential problems with VoiceOver is overload: it could rapidly become annoying and tedious when you have to sit waiting for it to tell you the information which you really need. By default, speech verbosity is high, but as you get used to it you will probably want to reduce that.

Braille settings are only relevant if you have a connected Braille output device. You will, though, want to tune the settings in the Text tab, as it is here that affable and annoying features are controlled, such as reading numbers as digits, and whether punctuation marks are spoken aloud. Another suite of important settings appears under the Announcements tab, and some remaining items such as speaking help tags are in the Hints tab.

vospeechSpeech lets you set which voice you prefer, its rate, pitch, etc.

vospeechpronMuch more importantly, it is another place where you can smooth out any irritations which might arise, in the words substituted for punctuation marks, symbols, emoticons, and selected acronyms and abbreviations. I suspect that over time you will add to that list: it is an important part of tailoring VoiceOver to your preferences.

vonavigationNavigation is a rather simpler set of controls, which are also important. These marry up the behaviour of the VoiceOver cursor, keyboard focus, and insertion point. As you use VoiceOver, these will quickly become of great significance, so it is another place to return to as you become more experienced.

vowebVoiceOver is a real boon when browsing the Internet, and its Web controls will prove important too. You should find the default Navigation settings fairly sensible, and the Page Loading tab gives you the option of speaking just a summary when loading a new webpage, or reading the whole page. Web Rotor lets you enable, disable, and order the items included in VoiceOver’s listing.

vosoundSound gives a few simple controls over sound output.

vovisualscursorVisuals is a fairly complex set of tools controlling the visual side of VoiceOver, if that is not an oxymoron. These include its Cursor, the Caption Panel, its Braille Panel (when suitable hardware is connected), Touch (background transparency), and Menus (size and transparency).

vovisualscaptionvocommandersCommanders are the controlling devices which you use to interact with VoiceOver, including Trackpad, NumPad (the numeric keypad), Keyboard, and the Quick Nav features which are ideally suited to web browsing. Depending on your preferences and abilities, you will first want to decide which devices you want to use to control VoiceOver, and then set its controls up in detail. This takes time, experimentation, and ongoing tuning, so you can expect to see a lot of these settings.

vobrailleBraille settings only apply if you have a suitable output device, such as a Braille Display, for which they are essential. Note that VoiceOver Braille translation is localised.

voactivitiesThe final settings, named simply Activities, you will probably ignore until you have got the major controls right. By that stage, you should have ideas as to how each activity – reading email, browsing the web, and so on – can be further customised to make it more efficient and less irksome. This is the place to assemble customised settings for each of those activities. Of all the settings, this is by far the most powerful and impressive.