Apple has today released macOS 14 Sonoma to the public. As usual, we won’t cover the mainstream features here, concentrating instead on what's new and changed for blind and low vision users. For an overview of the mainstream changes, we recommend this in-depth review by MacStories.
Please remember to check the section about bugs to see if now is the right time to upgrade. There’s no harm in holding off a few weeks or months to let Apple address a problem you may find too disruptive to deal with.
A note to braille users: the AppleVis team members doing testing with macOS Sonoma are not heavy braille users. We have no information as to how well braille works in this release, so please keep this in mind when upgrading. If you are a braille user who has experience with Sonoma, please share your findings in the comments to help the community.
Changes for Blind and Low Vision Users
Last year Apple brought new voices, information commands, and word processing improvements to macOS Ventura. This year, macOS Sonoma brings some more changes and a handful of bug fixes.
Independent Single-key Quick Nav
In previous versions of macOS, in order to use single-key Quick Nav to navigate webpages, arrow-key Quick Nav would've had to be on, which could frustrate users and detract from the usability and discoverability of this feature. In macOS Sonoma, single-key Quick Nav can be used regardless of whether arrow-key Quick Nav is on or off. Just open VoiceOver Utility > Commanders > Quick Nav, and select the "Enable single-key Quick Nav" checkbox, or Press VO-Q to toggle this setting from anywhere in macOS.
Per Voice Settings
As on iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, macOS Sonoma allows you to change a variety of settings for individual voices. The specific parameters configurable for each voice mirror those available on iOS and iPadOS, such as the ability to modify sentence pause and timbre of Vocalizer voices, the ability to adjust Alex's pitch range and WPM minimum and maximum, and the extensive range of customizations available for Eloquence voices, such as head size, pitch range, breathiness, and roughness. In addition, Eloquence voices now include the option to use a higher sample rate, phrase prediction, and the Community Dictionary to augment pronunciation.
To access these settings for VoiceOver voices, open VoiceOver Utility > Speech > Voices, choose "Manage voices" from the voice popup menu, interact with a voice in the list, and click the Info button. The same settings for Spoken Content can be accessed by going to System Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content, choosing "Manage voices" from the voice popup menu, interacting with a voice in the list, and clicking the Info button. Like on iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, you can preview any changes you make, and reset a voice to its default parameters if you wish.
While it is not something we have been able to test, we are aware of the following improvements for braille users in macOS Sonoma:
- Mathematical equations can now be written and displayed using Nemeth code. This setting can be found in VoiceOver Utility > Braille > Translation.
- You can now use a two-dimensional (2D) braille display with your Mac to experience supported graphical content by touch.
Custom Indentation Levels
Last year with the release of macOS Ventura, Apple added the option for VoiceOver to report indentation levels. In macOS Sonoma, you can now customize the number of spaces or tabs that constitutes a level. This setting can be found in VoiceOver Utility > Verbosity > Text.
Siri Voice Improvements
Like on iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, improvements to how Siri voices respond with VoiceOver have been made, particularly when using higher speech rates. Your individual experiences and results with these voices may vary.
Improvements for Low Vision Users
While it is not something we have been able to test, we are aware of the following improvements for low vision users:
- There is now an option to change the text size for supported macOS apps. This setting can be found in System Settings > Accessibility > Display.
- If you use multiple displays with your Mac, you can change the Zoom level for each display in System Settings > Accessibility > Zoom.
- Auto-playing animated images can be turned off in System Settings > Accessibility > Display. This may be useful for those who are sensitive to rapidly changing content.
If you are a low vision Mac user, we would love to hear in the comments your experience and thoughts on these and any additional enhancements you encounter in macOS Sonoma.
- You can now pair Made for iPhone (MFI) hearing devices with your Mac. This feature is limited to the MacBook Pro (2021), Mac Studio (2022), and all Macs with the M2 and later chips.
- Like on iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, you can use Live Speech on macOS Sonoma to type content that will then be spoken by a voice of your choosing. To use this feature, first turn it on by going to System Settings > Accessibility > Live Speech, and toggling it on. Then whenever you want to use it, click "Live Speech" in the status menu, type what you want spoken or select from a list of saved phrases, and click speak. In addition, you can use Personal Voice to create a clone of your voice that you can then use instead of a synthetic voice.
- macOS Sonoma includes the same predictive text model as iOS 17 and iPadOS 17. As you type, VoiceOver will speak text predictions which can be inserted by pressing the Space Bar. However, while these predictions can be helpful for completing words and simple sentences, some users may find VoiceOver's speaking of text predictions as they're trying to type distracting. To turn this feature off, go to System Settings > Keyboard, click the Edit button under the "Text input" heading, and turn the "show inline predictive text" switch off.
In it's support documentation, Apple lists the following changes for VoiceOver and braille users in macOS Sonoma:
- Automatically switch between customized groups of VoiceOver settings based on the context of what you’re currently doing in an app.
- When you have VoiceOver indicate the amount of leading indentation, you can customize the number of spaces per indent. This can be useful when reading and writing programming code.
- When you use Siri voices with VoiceOver, they sound more natural and expressive when speaking quickly.
- VoiceOver no longer differentiates between window spots and web spots. You can use window spots to quickly navigate both app windows and webpages.
- VoiceOver offers improvements to Quick Nav, which lets you navigate using only the arrow keys, or using single keys (instead of key combinations).
- You can connect supported two-dimensional refreshable braille displays with your Mac.
- VoiceOver can use Nemeth Code to represent mathematical equations in braille.
- You can assign keyboard function keys (F1, F2, and so on) to keys on your braille display.
Bug Fixes and New Bugs for VoiceOver Users
Below are lists of the bugs we believe to have been resolved in macOS Sonoma, as well as new bugs introduced in this release. Of note, at the time of posting, we are unaware of any new bugs which we would rate as serious. However, such ratings are subjective, and thus we strongly recommend that you read through the list of new bugs and any replies before updating; as this will allow you to make an informed decision on whether to install macOS Sonoma or wait for a future release.
With our small team, it's impossible to test every Mac model, configuration, application, and use case. We can't claim our bug list is comprehensive or that our assessments are infallible. Some issues may manifest only under specific conditions - you likely won't experience every bug. Also, expect to encounter problems not listed that we missed in our testing.
To ensure the information here is as complete and accurate as possible, we welcome feedback below from those who have installed macOS Sonoma. Please confirm if you're encountering the same problems listed or if you've found workarounds. Also let us know about any additional issues not mentioned here. Of course, it's even more important that you report any new bugs directly to Apple - they're already aware of the ones listed here. For an explanation of why and how to report bugs to Apple, see this post.
Accessibility Bugs Resolved in macOS Sonoma
We know there will be considerable interest in whether the longstanding “Safari not responding” bug has been addressed in macOS Sonoma. Our own experience and reports from elsewhere during the beta testing period suggest users who have experienced this issue under macOS Ventura should not expect improvement under macOS Sonoma.
Our testing indicates that Apple has, however, resolved the following bugs in macOS Sonoma:
- It is once again possible to activate links on App Store search pages using VoiceOver.
- Clicking the "Learn more" button in System Settings > General > Software update > Beta updates now loads the Apple Beta Program website as expected.
- Pressing the Return key now works to select suggestions in Reminders.
We can't confirm this from our own testing as it wasn't an issue our testers have experienced in the past, but user reports indicate that macOS Sonoma has resolved a VoiceOver bug on the login screen. For some users, VoiceOver would previously erroneously announce an “installer” window while failing to recognize the actual login elements. This issue has reportedly been fixed in macOS Sonoma with the login process now fully accessible and working as expected.
New Bugs for VoiceOver Users in macOS Sonoma
Our testing suggests that the following bugs have been introduced in macOS Sonoma:
- After clicking a link to a webpage, the link will be activated as expected, however VoiceOver focus will then be moved to a random location in the active window. This is most reliably demonstrated when clicking a URL in Mail, where focus moves to the newly opened webpage as expected, however when returning to Mail, VoiceOver focus will not be on the link you clicked, requiring you to manually locate the link in order to continue reading the message where you left off.
- It is not possible to type in some text fields, like Safari’s smart search field or VoiceOver's Find field, with single-key Quick Nav on, as VoiceOver interprets key presses as navigation commands. This issue occurs even when focus is automatically placed on a text field, such as when opening a window or app, as well as when locating a text field using the Tab key. In order to type, you must turn single-key Quick Nav off.
- When playing a video on youtube.com in Safari, clicking the “Skip navigation” button does not move VoiceOver focus to the “complimentary” landmark as expected. Note that navigating to this landmark via the rotor still works.
- In the “Edit widgets” interface in Notification Center, widget suggestions are labeled with their functions, however these labels do not include their parent apps. For example, the widget that shows the battery level of connected devices is labeled "Status" instead of "battery status," and the widget that shows the price of a given ticker symbol is labeled "symbol" instead of something like "Stocks, symbol." Interacting with the suggestion may give you additional context as to the precise function of the widget.
- In Safari’s “Add to dock” dialog, as well as the settings window for a web app, the button to choose a custom icon lacks an accessibility label.
macOS Sonoma Release Notes
macOS Sonoma brings all-new capabilities that elevate your productivity and creativity. Discover even more ways to personalize your Mac with stunning screensavers and widgets that you can add to your desktop. Elevate your presence on video calls with a new way to present your work that keeps you a part of the presentation. Safari profiles and web apps help you organize your browsing in all-new ways. Game Mode boosts your gaming performance. Sonoma also brings big updates to Messages, Keyboard, and Accessibility. And when you upgrade, you get the latest security and privacy protections available for Mac.
- Stunning screen savers of locations from around the world seamlessly become your desktop wallpaper when you log-in
- Shuffle settings for rotating through screensavers by theme including Landscape, Cityscape, Underwater, and Earth
- Widgets can be placed anywhere on the desktop and adapt to the color of your wallpaper while working in apps
- iPhone widgets can be added to your Mac when your iPhone is nearby or on the same Wi-Fi network
- Interactive widgets let you take actions directly from the widget such as running a shortcut, pausing media, and more
- Presenter Overlay keeps you front and center while sharing your screen in FaceTime or third-party video conferencing apps (Mac with Apple silicon)
- Reactions layer 3D effects like hearts, balloons, confetti, and more around you in video calls and can be triggered with gestures (Mac with Apple silicon, Continuity Camera with iPhone 12 and later)
Safari and Passwords
- Profiles keep your browsing separate for topics like work and personal, separating your history, cookies, extensions, Tab Groups, and favorites
- Web apps let you use any website like an app, complete with an icon in the Dock for faster access and a simplified toolbar for easier browsing
- Enhanced Private Browsing locks your private browsing windows when you're not using them, blocks known trackers from loading, and removes tracking that identifies you from URLs
- Password and passkey sharing allows you to easily share accounts with trusted contacts
- Live Stickers sync from iOS and iPadOS to macOS, giving you access to the Live Stickers you create on your iPhone and iPad
- Search filters for people, keywords, and content types like photos or links help you more easily find what you are looking for
- Swipe to reply inline on any iMessage bubble
- Game Mode gives games the highest priority on the CPU and GPU, delivering more consistent frame rates and lower latency to wireless controllers and AirPods (Mac with Apple silicon)
- Improved autocorrect accuracy makes typing even easier by leveraging a more powerful transformer-based language model
- Inline predictive text shows single- and multi-word predictions that you can add by pressing the Space bar
- Improved Dictation experience supports using your voice and keyboard together to enter and edit text
- Adaptive Audio delivers a new listening mode that dynamically blends Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency to tailor the noise control experience based on the conditions of your environment (AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with the latest firmware)
- Personalized Volume adjusts the volume of your media in response to your environment and listening preferences over time (AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with the latest firmware)
- Conversation Awareness lowers your media volume and enhances the voices of the people in front of the user, all while reducing background noise (AirPods Pro (2nd generation) with the latest firmware)
- Press to mute and unmute your microphone by pressing the AirPods stem or the Digital Crown on AirPods Max when on a call (AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro (1st and 2nd generation), or AirPods Max with the latest firmware)
- Improved AirPods automatic switching now detects Mac up to 2X faster (AirPods (2nd and 3rd generation), AirPods Pro (1st and 2nd generation), AirPods Max with the latest firmware)
- Sensitive Content Warnings can be enabled to help prevent users from unexpectedly viewing sensitive images in Messages
- Expanded Communication Safety protections for children now detect videos containing nudity in addition to photos shared through Messages and the system Photos picker
- Improved sharing permissions let you choose which photos to share and add calendar events without providing access to your entire photo library or calendar
- Live Speech lets you type what you want to say and reads it aloud in FaceTime calls or in-person conversations
- Personal Voice helps users at risk of speech loss create a voice that sounds like them in a private and secure way using on-device machine learning
- Made for iPhone compatible hearing devices can be paired and used with Mac (MacBook Pro (2021), Mac Studio (2022), and Mac computers with M2 chip)
This release also includes other features and improvements:
- One-Time verification code AutoFill from Mail helps you quickly sign into sites in Safari, without leaving the browser
- Inline PDFs and document scans in Notes are presented full-width making them easy to view
- Grocery Lists in Reminders automatically group related items into sections as you add them
- Visual Look Up for recipes helps you find similar dishes from photo
- Visual Look Up in video helps you learn about objects that appear in paused video frames
- Pets in the People album in Photos surfaces individual pets just like friends or family members
- Option to say "Siri" in addition to "Hey Siri" for a more natural way to activate Siri (Mac with Apple silicon, AirPods Pro (2nd generation))
- High performance mode in Screen Sharing supports color workflows and improves responsiveness while remotely accessing a Mac (Mac with Apple silicon)
- Item sharing in Find My allows you to share an AirTag with up to five other people
- Activity History in Home displays a recent history of events for door locks, garage doors, security systems, and contact sensors
- Battery health management updated on 13-inch MacBook Air with M2 chip to better optimize long term battery health
Some features may not be available for all regions or on all Apple devices.
To learn more about macOS Sonoma, please visit: https://www.apple.com/macOS/Sonoma
For information on the security content of Apple software updates, please visit this website: https://support.apple.com/kb/HT201222
macOS Sonoma is a solid update that adds a few new features and enhancements for blind and low vision users. We encountered no show-stopping bugs in this version of macOS. Our recommendation is to update when you're ready. You may want to give developers time to update their apps and others opportunity to find the bugs or other problems we missed, but we believe most users should be okay to update now.
We'd love to hear your thoughts after you've had a chance to install the update. What new features do you find most useful? Are there any changes you don't like? Please share your feedback in the comments below. Let us know what Apple got right with this release and where you think there's still room for improvement.
In closing, we thank Apple's Accessibility team for their prompt response in fixing many of the bugs reported during the macOS Sonoma beta cycle. However, some problems remain unresolved. We encourage Apple to promptly address the outstanding accessibility issues discussed in this post and the comments below so that macOS can be as accessible, usable, and enjoyable as possible for all users.
To install macOS Sonoma, choose System Settings from the Apple menu, select General in the table, click Software Update in the scroll area, and click the Update Now button to begin the update process. If other updates are available, you can click "More info" to see details about them and select specific updates to install.
More information on how to update the software on your Mac is available on this Apple Support page.