Yo, Human! - Knowing the Shortcuts is Key(s): Accessing Life with Adaptive Technology

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Brought to you by the letter "Control-Option-A".

Before my VoiceOver adventures began, I would tutor my clients on the use of standard shortcut keys and how to discover new keys by looking at the menus. The key-combinations are listed to the right of each menu item. Most of the often-used keys involved the use of the Command key on Mac, or the Control key on Windows. On the Mac, hold down Command with your thumb and press "s" and the current document will be saved. Look at the File menu, next to the "Save" menu item is "Command-s." Simple, right?

Most people can speed up their navigation by using only a dozen or so keys. The most-used keys on Mac and Windows can be activated by pressing their first letter, command-o for open, command-s for save, etc. With a few exceptions. see the list below.

On the Mac, by turning on "Full Keyboard Access" in System Preferences>Keyboard>Shortcuts tab, then near the bottom of the window find, "Full Keyboard Access: In windows and dialogs, press Tab to move keyboard focus between:", and choose "All controls."This helps allow for full navigation of the Mac without using the mouse pointer. This window is also where you can find/alter/create your own shortcuts.

The above option has been available on Mac for years. On my laptop, once turned on, I could press Control-fn-f2 and the Apple menu would become highlighted. Omit the fn key and use Control-f2 if you are on a desktop. I could move the highlight around using the arrow keys, dropping down menus and choosing menu items by pressing Spacebar. Control-fn-f3 would move the highlight to the Dock where again, I could navigate using the arrow keys and activate Dock items with Spacebar. Pressing Escape, which I affectionately think of as the 'Stop that' key, would let go of or dismiss anything and put the highlight back on a Desktop item where, I could navigate using arrows and opening items with command-down arrow.

There are hundreds of shortcut keys on the Mac, and also many shortcuts to navigation in general. Using Tab is another method of moving the highlight around. I remember the highlight being hard to define for me sometimes, possibly due to a past tunnel-vision phase of my changing eyesight. I would have to press Tab several times to catch its movement, then press Shift-tab to move backwards to where I wanted. No matter where the highlight is located, Spacebar or Return or down arrow would activate or open the item.

Additionally in dialogs, there is usually a default item that will be activated by pressing Return. This includes buttons like Save, Open, Choose, Agree, etc. Default items are usually double-outlined, so you can tell which one is default. In Save dialogs, the default button is always Save or Save as. In Open dialogs, its always Open or Choose. In either case, pressing Return will complete your task and dismiss the dialog.

The Mac is very alphabetical.

Using a form of single-key navigation, I can highlight the Apple menu by pressing Control-fn-f2, then 'e' by itself, and the highlight jumps to the Edit menu. Press Spacebar to drop down the menu, press 'f' to jump down to the Find submenu. Press Spacebar again and the submenu pops up, then use arrow keys to move up and down through the submenu. Press Spacebar again to choose the desired item. This single-key, alphabetical method works well on the menus, the Dock and Desktop, and in Finder windows. Spacebar activates Dock and menu items and Command-Down arrow opens or activates Finder items.

"A" is for Alphabeticalness.

The Mac's 'alphabeticalness', (Is that a word?) extends to second and third letter presses as well. on my desktop I have a "Writings" folder and a "Works" folder. When I press 'w' by itself, the highlight jumps to the "Works" folder. If I quickly press 'w' then 'r' immediately after, it skips the "Works" folder and jumps to the "Writings" folder. Command-down arrow opens the folder's window. I like to view my finder windows in List view (command-2), it adds to the alphabeticalness. I also have my Finder windows set to, open in the same window, instead of a new window or tab. it works better with using command up and down arrows for moving in and out of folders. With the "Writings" window open, I have a subfolder called "Yo, Human", pressing y jumps to that folder, pressing command-down arrow opens the folder in the same window. pressing 's' jumps me to the beginning of that section, but not where I wanted. Pressing 's', then 'h', moves me to the "ShortcutsRKeys.rtf" file. Command-down arrow opens it so I can finish writing this post.

But wait, I need some notes I had written earlier. With TextEdit in front, command-tab brings up what I call, the 'Whats running" menu, also known as the Application Switcher. By holding down Command and tapping on Tab, I can flip through the running applications. I Tab to the Finder and let go of the Command key. The Finder comes to the front, the "Yo Human" window is open. Since my notes are in the main "Writings" folder, I press Command-up arrow which moves me into the Parent, "Writings" window. Pressing the letter 'n', jumps to the "Notes.rtf" file, where I open it and get busy, all without moving any cursor until I reach the surface of my document..

Everything I have described above can be done on any Mac, without ever moving the mouse cursor. Once you get comfortable with the idea, it is much faster as well, a few keystrokes can take u there in a couple of seconds. I remember sometimes taking that long in the past, simply to find the mouse cursor in the first place. :-)

Also of note, the visual aspects of the above content is from memory. I no longer see or use the screen.

Okay, lets mix it up a bit. So far, I have not turned on VoiceOver. Everything described above has been on Macs for years, and has nothing to do with the VoiceOver screen reader. Pressing Command-f5.

"Yo Human! VoiceOver is on. Welcome to macOS."

When I began to lose my visual orientation I dove into VoiceOver thinking, "It is just another set of shortcuts. This should be a snap, right?"

Sometimes I can not believe my own naivety. Moving from a visual orientation to a audio orientation revealed a whole new approach to using any digital device. At first, customizing my Mac in various ways became focused on easy navigating with the arrow keys, and the way everything sounds. I even ended up with more than a few custom pronunciations. With a bit of practice, I was navigating and interacting and beginning to learn some of the deeper level VoiceOver commands. I learned about the VO keys and QuickNav first, then making HotSpots and custom labels. After a time, I was exploring the Commanders and Activities, and even scripting VO using AppleScript. My comfort level was increasing with VoiceOver, though I had many more areas yet to explore.

A short time ago I found myself wondering about my old navigation methods, moving through menus and Dock items, and traversing the Mac alphabetically. Of course, I have been using the common Mac shortcut keys with VO all along, without even thinking, (see list below). However, what about the deeper level navigation modes that have been on the Mac for years? To my delight I found that almost everything I have used in my visual past plays very nicely with VoiceOver. VoiceOver speaks all elements. :-)

In fact, the Mac's alphabeticalness works fluently with VO, and removes the need for much of the "interacting" with areas in the Finder. Blending the alphabetical single or double key navigation of old, with many of the VO commands is revealing another whole level of interaction that neither could give me alone. For instance, with VO running and starting from the Desktop, with no windows open;

I press Command-n, and a new Finder window opens. Mine is set to show the contents of the Macintosh HD.

VO says, "Macintosh HD, window, list view, table."

I press 'a', VO says, "Applications folder."

Command-down arrow opens the folder in the same window.

VO says, "Applications, window, list view, table."

Pressing 't' jumps to TextEdit. VO says "TextEdit, Application."

Command-down arrow opens the app.

Not to stretch the point, but it is nice to open, navigate and close folders and files without ever interacting with anything. The VO focus never moves past the List View level. Yet VoiceOver obliges me by speaking items the system cursor highlights, just to be polite. VO works well with all the content described above, whether or not the VO cursor moves to those items.

One of my every morning routines, after getting coffee of course, is to press right-option-s, then VO-m, then B, then down-arrow, then v, then right-arrow, then A, and press Return.

Ah, sipping hot coffee with the AppleVis website. Now, its morning!

Thats... right-option-s, which thanks to Keyboard Commander, opens Safari. Then VO-m, which moves focus to the Apple menu. Then B, moves me to the Bookmarks menu, where down-arrow pops it open. Then v, jumps me to my custom VoiceOver subfolder, Right-arrow pops it open. Then A, moves me to the AppleVis bookmark, where Return, takes me there.

Obviously I could make a much quicker shortcut to the AppleVis web site, and I do already have several, including a custom Dictation command. Why am I doing this in the long method? Because I am retraining myself on the Mac's alphabeticalness, and blending some of the hundreds of Mac shortcuts with the hundreds of VO commands and methods of navigation. Somewhere in the mix, there is a future navigation method that I will really like! :-)

It almost seems like another life to me to look back at the chronological and alphabetical nature of computers over the decades, starting with the alphabeticalness of DOS and PRODOS, and the line numbering of BASIC programming. After the progression of the GUI over the years and the massive changes to the way we navigate devices, now I am remembering that underneath, it is all still in place. At this stage of my digital life, literally thousands of learned shortcuts later, it all seems to boil down to a single shortcut key,...


(VoiceOver off. Ooops! Hey, darn it! Come back here...)

A descriptive reminder that all of our cool digital stuff that we work with, play with and enjoy, is all about "Living." Live well!

Customizing the Navigation.

Some common Mac shortcuts. Holding down Command:

o = Open, s = Save, q = Quit, n = New item, p = Print, w = Close window, c = Copy, v = Paste, x = Cut, a = Select all, z = Undo, "." period = Cancel, Escape = Stop that!, '`' accent = Next window.

Some more uncommon keys:

Command-tab, opens the "Whats Running" menu, also known as the Application Switcher. Hold down Command and tap on Tab to flip through the running applications. Let go of Command on the highlighted item to bring it to the front.

Command-Shift-z, 'Redo', undo the last Undo.

Command-Option-w, close all open windows in the current application, works in the Finder as well. If a document needs saving, you will receive a dialog.

Command-Option-v, in the Finder, will 'move' copied Finder items to a new location, rather than 'paste' them.

Command-Option-right or left arrows will move the highlighted Dock item to new positions. See more about the Dock and VO below.

Command-f, brings up the 'Find' dialog. Type your search item and press Return. Afterwards, if needed press Escape to dismiss the dialog. Then use Command-g to find the Next occurrence. Command-Shift-g to Find the previous one. Note, some applications are still catching up with this method. See a VO tip below.

Command-down-arrow, in the Finder, opens the selected file, folder or application.

Command-up-arrow, in a Finder window, moves focus to the enclosing 'parent' folder.

Apple's list of Mac shortcut keys

Other Mac Tips:

Some Menu items not only include the shortcuts, but also have an "..." ellipses. This means that choosing this menu item will provide you with a dialog. The items without one, will not.

In System Preferences>Keyboard>Shortcuts tab, you can make your own Shortcuts for any menu item, whether or not it already has one. I made my own Shut down item on the Apple menu that does not include the ellipses. Choosing it will immediately shut down my computer, without a dialog. I even made my own shortcut key for the new menu item.

In the Finder, using Spacebar to Quicklook TextEdit files works well for quickly sifting through information from various files. You can navigate to the text area and interact with it, copying info if needed, without ever opening the file. Press Spacebar again to put the Quicklook window away.

In any selectable text, use shift-right or left arrows to select text, one letter at a time. Use Shift-Option-right/left arrows to select a word at a time. Use Shift-up/down arrows to select lines. Use Shift-Option-up/down arrows to select paragraphs.

Editing or creating Mac OS shortcut keys

Some of my VoiceOver favorites: Note, VO = hold Control-Option.

VO-Shift-m, pops up the standard contextual menu, (right-click), on the item in the VoiceOver cursor.

To add an application to the Dock: Run the application. Use VO-d to move to the Dock. Near the right side you will find the app. When highlighted, use VO-Shift-m, to open the Contextual menu. Navigate down to the Options submenu, and choose "keep on the Dock." Then use Command-Option-left or right arrows to move it to a new position.

VO-Shift-c, copies the last spoken phrase. Does not copy the selected item, but rather the exact words that VoiceOver spoke, including any additional information, depending on your Verbosity settings. A nice feature when working with text. Have VoiceOver read an entire paragraph, then VO-copy it to the clipboard as text, without selecting anything.

VO-f, replaces the standard Find function, and seems to work well with VoiceOver. Use VO-g and VO-Shift-g for Find Next and Previous afterwards.

Keyboard Commander Tip: For added navigation in large text documents, I used Keyboard Commander in the VoiceOver Utility. Using the Right-Option key, I set, 'slash' (/), to "read next paragraph." I set Shift-slash to "read previous paragraph." One caveat, the Text Insertion cursor is at the beginning of the paragraph when done reading. I use these keys because they are right next to the Arrow keys, nice and handy while I navigate. By default, you can also use, s for Safari, m for Mail, t for date and time, among others. You can also make your own custom 'Right-Option' keys here. Thank you Keyboard Commander.

Understanding and Using VoiceOver's Commanders, by mehgcap

VoiceOver Commands Charts, from Apple.

First-Level VoiceOver Commands Chart in Color

Second-Level VoiceOver Commands Chart in Color

Third-Level VoiceOver Commands Chart in Color

Fourth-Level VoiceOver Commands Chart in Color

Author's note: Just an observation, I remember back in the Mac OS 7.6 days (I think), to choose a menu item you had to click the Menu, but do not let go of the mouse button, or the Menu would disappear again. While still holding down the mouse, drag down the menu until the item was highlighted, then let go of the mouse button to choose the item. Make sure it was highlighted before letting go, or you would have to try again.

We've come a long way, baby!

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Great Blog

This was a great blog. I have a question for you. Can you recommend any tutorials for getting started with a Mac? I have been a long-time Windows user, and while I have a MacBook laptop, my proficiency is very lacking.



This is an awesome post that makes me glad I'm still using a Mac. Keep up the great work.

For the person wanting tutorials on the Mac, I'd suggest checking the getting started section of this website or going to www.macfortheblind.com and looking at the free and paid resources offered.

Another Excellent Post

This is another excellent post. One of the things I like about VoiceOver is the Keyboard Commander, and the various shortcuts available to us. Thanks also for those 2 Apple links. I have been to both and they're great. I've been rather busy as of late, but I think they would do my sister well. This sister is also a VoiceOver user. I've brought her to this website a few times, but she hasn't yet gone on here and looked through things in detail. But thanks again for another well-rounded post.

Ekaj, thanks!

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Ekaj,
Thank you for the comment and your continued patronage of my blog. I am very glad you are finding it helpful. Also, I see your comments in many places on AppleVis. Thanks for being a participating member of the community!
Best wishes.