How to Become an Efficient VoiceOver User on Mac

By Dave Johnson - Senior Staff Writer
3 Min Read

If you have been a JAWS or NVDA user for some time, moving to a Mac can be both intimidating and exciting. If you are using your Mac in a school or work setting, developing proficiency with macOS and VoiceOver can seem like an uphill battle. Becoming a fluent and efficient VoiceOver user takes some discipline, but following these tips can speed up your time on the Mac and help the technology disappear so you can get work done.

Learn macOS

Macs were the first personal computers with a graphical user interface or GUI. If you are coming to macOS from Windows, many of the concepts are the same such as files and folders, menus, tabs and so on. It’s a good idea to get familiar with how the macOS interface is structured and how to get around the operating system.

Online videos and courses are great places to start with learning the basics of how to use a Mac. Watch these videos and take in the concepts. This will build the foundation for learning VoiceOver.

Learn VoiceOver

VoiceOver is the built-in screenreader for macOS. Like JAWS and NVDA, it provides access to the user interface or UI elements of the operating system such as buttons, sliders, windows, files, the menubar, widgets and so on. Press Command-F5 on any Mac to start using VoiceOver.

VoiceOver comes with a built-in tutorial that takes you through all of the VoiceOver commands for moving between UI elements, interacting with them and activating them. Press Control-Option-Command-F8 to start the tutorial. VoiceOver will speak and provide instructions on how to start or resume the tutorial from where you left off.

If you’re still uncomfortable with VoiceOver commands after running the tutorial, run it again and work through the interfaces until the VoiceOver commands become locked into muscle memory. This is a great place to make mistakes and build up your speed and comfort with VoiceOver before taking it for a spin in macOS.

Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

Mac OS has tons of keyboard shortcuts throughout the operating system and in each of the apps that come with your Mac. These keyboard shortcuts are often listed next to the command in the menus.

Keyboard shortcuts save time and reduce the need for frequent trips to the menubar. Some shortcuts are universal—meaning there are shortcuts for working with text and documents that never change. Other keyboard shortcuts are specific to functions within an application such as Music or Pages. Online videos, websites and macOS itself have lists of these keyboard shortcuts.

Create a playground to practice. A playground is a document, folder or other work area where you can experiment with commands, manipulate files or play with settings without affecting anything important.

Some universal macOS keyboard shortcuts and VoiceOver commands perform the same function. For example, moving from word to word in a document can be done with Option and the arrows as well as Control-Option and the arrows. Use the native macOS command before resorting to the VoiceOver commands.

Customize VoiceOver

As you become more comfortable with VoiceOver, it’s a good idea to begin customizing it to your liking. You will quickly learn what information you want to hear and what information is irrelevant or redundant. VoiceOver is highly customizable and you can adjust this to your preferred way of working.

VoiceOver activities let you customize how it behaves in apps and even individual websites. This is useful for creating customized behaviours and building up your efficiency in macOS apps.

It can be tempting to become “tweak happy” where you are customizing settings, installing extra voices and changing the way VoiceOver speaks.. This can diminish VoiceOver performance and your efficiency. Stick to a few pleasant voices and keep the settings as standard as possible until a change is necessary.

Related Links

Make Mistakes

Using a mac is supposed to be easy and fun. MacOS is very forgiving.. It’s almost impossible to delete important files or easily damage the system. Make your mistakes in your playground or while poking around in familiar apps. Undo your mistakes and don’t be afraid of trying new things. You’ll know you’re a fast and efficient VoiceOver usr when you can accomplish tasks in the same amount of time as a sighted user.

By Dave Johnson Senior Staff Writer
Dave Johnson is a staff writer for GeeksChalk based in New Jersey. He covers news, how-tos, and user guides for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.
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