When I made it to the twelfth grade, I had already taken a couple different music classes (piano and choir), and was looking for something new to try my hand in. I ended up in a class that taught audio production and music technology. It was quite a small class, and there was only one other person in it besides myself. I’m sure you can tell where this is going… Me being the only totally blind student in the entire school, the teacher was thrilled I had decided to take the class, and informed me that he had heard the Mac laptops had a screen reader built into them like the iOS devices, and from here I was set the assignment of learning how to Navigate GarageBand on an iMac independently. Thus began my learning of Voice Over (VO for short).
Needless to say, this was a train wreck. When VO was fired up on the iMac for the first time I felt a sense of familiarity already. Just hearing my preferred voice (Samantha) which I had requested the teacher switch to before turning speech on, say, “Voice Over on” made me feel right at home. Then I realized that I was, for a lack of a better word, totally and utterly screwed. There were so many key combinations to memorize, and pressing Enter (AKA Return) did nothing and instead Control, Option, and space had to be pressed to select something. Navigating was a nightmare because every time I had to move around the Control and Option keys had to be held by default, and this took a lot of time to get used to. Remember, I had no idea what I was doing, and was unaware of QuickNav being an option. Not to mention I had no experience with this version of Voice Over before, and had been an avid JAWS user since I started using computers. It should go without saying that I spent tens of minutes to locate whatever I needed to either interact with, select, or which keys I needed to hold down to perform different basic actions, and found myself confused by it all for quite a while. It didn’t help either that the classes were only forty five minutes long, and I only was present in this class for three days a week. It seemed that as soon as I would begin to make some headway on actually understanding what felt like a tiny corner of the tapestry that is Voice Over, the bell would interrupt and I’d have to quit and resume at a later time.
To put it nicely, I was not a fan of the Mac initially. I was really surprised at how much difficulty I was having with grasping the fundamentals of this version of a screen reader I loved so much on another platform. Was that through any fault of the screen reader itself though? Absolutely not. It was due to a lack of time, the fact that I wasn’t trying to learn anything other than getting around one application (GarageBand), and the fact that every time I would get stuck with something there was always someone who had vision around. I would ask for assistance, and they didn’t know how I was meant to do whatever I needed help with unless Voice Over was turned off so I didn’t learn anything of much importance. The Voice Over Tutorial was too long for me to ever manage to complete with in the time frame of the class, and I would get about half way through it and have to stop so that was no help as well. So, I really didn’t have a very good first impression of Voice Over on a Macintosh. Even though this was the case, I still managed to learn the basics, and by the end of the school year, I could at least get to the different tracks that were created in GarageBand and to the “Record Button” so my first attempt wasn’t a complete failure.
Fast Forward to February of This Year
After I graduated from high school, I had to return my computer that was given to me for completing school assignments back to The Board of Education, and I was supposed to be given a new one for when I started college in the fall of 2016, which due to complications that were out of my control did not come to fruition. There I was: without a computer, and left with my iPad and iPhone. I love my portable iOS devices, and even though I’ve praised how much I like VO on iOS in the past, there are just some things a guy needs a computer for. Plus I’ve packed a laptop around since I was eight years old, so I sorely missed having one. It wasn’t until then I decided to give the Mac a second look. I wasn’t able to attend an educational program, and frankly I found myself quite bored. I don’t enjoy being idle, and love learning new things. So I started doing research on all of the various models of Macs and finally decided on the 2015 MacBook Pro with Eight Gigs of Ram and 120 gigs of memory. It was time to give Apple a second look.
The Fiasco that was shipping
After placing my order through the Apple Store, I remember waiting and worrying. I deemed this my “first adult purchase”, and I was so nervous that it would get lost in shipping, or stolen, or go to the wrong place…yeah I’m a worry wart to say the least. Interestingly enough I had good reason to worry. The day before my Mac was set to arrive, we had a wind storm that knocked out our power. So, I couldn’t track my package. The following day I was sitting home, alone in the dark, and I never heard a vehicle pull up to my house. The next day came and went, still no package, and no way to find out if it was coming. On the third day, the power came back on, and I was finally able to log onto the Apple Store website and track my package. To my utter dismay, it said that my Mac had been attempted to be delivered twice by this point, and they would try a third and final time to deliver it and Fed X would take it back from which it came. Obviously it hadn’t been brought to my house, so where had it been attempted to be taken to?
Not long after, I received a phone call from my neighbors saying that there had been a piece of paper taped to their front door addressed to me regarding a failure to deliver my package. My neighbors are also my aunt and uncle, and my cousin informed me that he would be home the day it was set to be delivered again, and texted me letting me know. Three days after the initial date I was supposed to get my Mac, it was in my hands at last.
Six Months Later
Six months have passed since the day I powered on my Mac for the first time, and I must say that my opinion of the machine is very positive now compared to what it was originally. I absolutely love how seamlessly my Apple devices talk to one another: receiving messages on all three devices, along with FaceTime calls, and having all my data backed up to iCloud is heavenly. The Finder used to scare me to death, but now I find it very easy to navigate, and I love browsing the internet with Safari using Quick Nav, and jumping from heading to heading, or pressing a single key to find a text field on a web page. Once you grasp that the interaction feature is there to help you keep information organized, it actually cuts down on the time you’d spend searching for whatever piece of information you’re looking for, and I have come to appreciate it so much.
Do you remember how I mentioned that I wasn’t enjoying the experience of Voice Over because of the key commands and things that had to be pressed? I felt so limited because I always had to have two extra keys pressed down (Control and option: AKA VO Keys), once I had the opportunity to learn more about my screen reader, I realized that I wasn’t limited at all. In fact, my problem had become that there are multiple ways of navigating, and there for a while I had trouble deciding on which method best suit my needs. There are Rotor settings which can be changed from the track pad (this is similar to the Rotor on iOS) or via arrow keys (Right plus Up arrows move clockwise, Left plus Up Arrows to move counterclockwise through the navigation options, Down plus Right Arrows to interact, Down plus Left Arrows to stop interacting, and Up plus Down Arrows to select an item), there’s also a setting for Quick Nav called Single-Key Navigation which negates the use of the Rotor and allows for the changing of navigation by the press of a single key (H for Headings, and L for Links are examples), and there’s NumPad navigation (which I have not experimented with as of yet), and finally there’s the track pad itself which allows you to use the same gestures as you would on iOS. There for a while, it was hard to decide on which methods of navigation I wanted to use myself, and I felt like I had way too many options to choose from. The amount of customization Voice Over provides is insane, and once you’ve worked out what’s best for you personally, it makes for a wonderful experience.
With the help of AppleVis.com and a couple different groups on Facebook: The Mac Voice Over Network, the iPhone and iPad Apps for the Visually Impaired (which allows questions about the Mac as well), The Apple Accessibility Network, and the MacBook, MacBook Air,& MacBook Pro Users I’ve totally changed my perceptions on Voice Over, and the Macintosh itself. For what my opinion is worth, if you’re considering making the switch to the Mac from a Windows computer, I did it, and I have come to love Mac OS even more than I did Windows. It’s definitely a change, but just because it’s different doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet to give Voice Over, and the Mac in general, a chance before deciding that it’s not for you. It could just surprise you: it did me.
If you have read to the end of this article, I thank you. What are some of your experiences with Voice Over. Let me know in the comments. Have a nice day!