I love customizing and tweaking my Mac operating System. From finding those little speed boosts to reducing keypresses for navigation, there is something exciting about finding settings that actually help and make things easier and more comfy. If it were a car it would be a low-rider and have pin-stripes. A stereo would be blasting Led Zeppelin or Santana with a thumpin' subwoofer in the trunk. Some fuzzy dice would be hanging from the mirror. Oops, showing my age again.
Since my Mac has nothing from which to hang my dice, I tend to focus my tweaks on functionality and ease of use. Economy of movement is usually my main theme. I hear comments about how difficult VO is on the Mac, alluding to the use of Control and Option as the VO keys. Yet I find many ways around this by looking for those little details and settings that help me augment or bypass their use entirely.
The times that I do use the VO keys are rare. I use them for navigating up/down through tables without having to change the Quick Nav Rotor setting. VO-Up or Down arrows will always move vertically through a table.
I also use 'VO-Shift-M' to pop up the Contextual Menu, and 'VO-Shift-C' to Copy Last Spoken Phrase. Although, these are probably future tweaks waiting to happen. :-)
There are several more obscure VO commands that I still activate with the VO keys. Since my VoiceOver adventures do not seem to be slowing down anytime soon, I am sure my future tweaking habit will only increase.
My Favorite 'Must-Do' Tweaks
The VO Login welcome message
As my Mac is first loading it says, "Yo, human! VoiceOver is on. Welcome to Mac OS Sierra." You can change the VoiceOver welcome message in the VoiceOver utility. Press Control-Option-fn-f8 to open the VoiceOver Utility. In the utility categories table, select General. In the main window, I like to change the Welcome message to include the particular OS that I am currently booting. Sometimes I include the version number. If you boot into several OSs on a regular basis, or if you update frequently, it's nice to have a reminder as you boot/login. Of course, you have to remember to update your login message as well.
The next tweak that helps me the most is turning on Quick Nav mode. This is found in the Commanders category of the VO Utility. Select the Quick Nav tab. Here I leave 'Single key web page navigation' unchecked. I will provide that functionality from tweaking another area.
I also use 'Allow toggling of Quick Nav using left and right arrow keys'. For those times when Quick Nav is not appropriate I can easily turn it on and off by pressing left and right arrows both at once.
By turning on Quick Nav I can easily perform basic navigation of my Mac, without the use of the VO keys. Moving about, interacting, activating/opening items, even quickly choosing different nav modes on the Rotor, all just became a one-handed maneuver using the arrow keys. Kind of like turning on Cruise Control in my thumpin' low-rider. Groovy!
I make the next tweak immediately after turning on Quick Nav.
'Allow cursor wrapping, checked.' This is found in the VO Utility, Navigation Category. I found that if I did not turn this option on, it would surely drive me nuts. This wrapping option allows me to navigate to the bottom of the page and when reaching the bottom-right corner, I can press right arrow once more and wrap-around to the top-left corner, usually the Close button. It makes a nice wrapping sound effect as it wraps. It wraps from top-left back to bottom-right as well. Wrapping works well in most windows, dialogs, web pages. Even menus, the Dock and Desktop icons.
The next tweak is back in the Commanders category of VoiceOver Utility, I select the Keyboard tab and enable Keyboard Commander. I set mine to use the 'right option' key, it is nice and handy next to the Arrow Keys. This allows me to press right option and m, to open the Mail.app. Or right-option s, for Safari. Plus I can make my own custom right-option shortcuts in the Keyboard Commander table. Simply enter the key I want to use with right-option, then choose one of the hundreds of VO commands from a pop up menu.
The Keyboard Commander is where I will make many future tweaks to VO. The lure of having access to every command that VO can issue, then assigning one to a shortcut of my own choosing is irresistible. By using the Right-Option key to activate them, it prevents accidental activation of commands. This is why I don't use Single-Key Web Page navigation in Quick Nav. It helps reduce glitches while typing. Plus the Quick Nav Rotor can be edited for web pages to contain any Nav modes you wish, Headings, Links, etc.
Tweaking On The Fly
The Quick Nav Rotor
In Quick Nav, The Rotor sets Navigation mode for the Up and Down Arrows. When navigating web pages or text apps, the QuickNav Rotor really shines. Use the Left or Right Arrow keys along with the Up key to rotate through nav-modes on the Rotor. Leave the Rotor on a mode, then use Up and Down Arrows to navigate using that mode.
Example: On a web page, leave the Rotor on Headings, then use Up and Down to jump from one Heading to the next. Use Left and Right to read through like normal.
In Text apps I use the Paragraphs, Sentences or Character Nav-modes, which again, only effect the way the Up and Down Arrows work.
Use Control-Option-Command-Left or Right Arrows to switch between the Speech options. Use Control-Option-Command-Up or Down Arrows to change each setting.
Press Control-Option-v, then use Left or Right Arrows to switch between the Verbosity options. Use Up or Down Arrows to change each setting. Press Escape when done.
Not really a Tweak, but the following commands help speed things up considerably
Control-Option-fn-Right arrow will jump to the bottom -right-most item in the document/window. Control-Option-fn-Left arrow will jump to the top-left-most item. When combined with Wrap-around cursor it gives options for much quicker navigation. Additionally these commands work well on desktop icons, the Dock, System and App Dialogs, even on the Mac's Menu Bar.
A good resource
There are literally thousands of ways to customize a Mac, and hundreds of options for tweaking VoiceOver. Adjustments should be tailored to your particular situation, needs and computer habits. We all find our own tweaks that we like and use. For the sake of sharing, the above are some of my favorites. I am sure that many of us have found a favorite tweak that made our lives easier. Please feel free to share your own tweaks in the comments below. I will make room for them in the back seat, since the trunk is full. :-)
No matter how much I explore, or how much I learn, I am always reminded of one thing...
All of our cool digital stuff that we work with, play with and enjoy, is all about "Living." Live well!
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