Yo, Human! Tweaking My Mac: Accessing Life with Adaptive Technology

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

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.

Quicker Nav

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!

Wrap-Around Cursor

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.

Keyboard Commander

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.

Speech settings

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.

Verbosity settings

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

Apple's Online VoiceOver User Guide: Chapter 9, Customizing VoiceOver

In Closing

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!

All copyrights and trademarks mentioned above are property of their respective owners. Portions copyright Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.



Submitted by Ekaj on Monday, August 21, 2017

Hi Nicholas. As always this is a great blog post. I, too, have tweaked my Mac a bit and this is one of the things about VoiceOver which impresses me. I am a big fan of the Keyboard Commander, and use it often. It definitely speeds things up especially when trying to get important work done. I for one, am very excited to see what Apple does with VoiceOver going forward. Additionally, I'm hoping to get a Braille display or external blue-tooth keyboard for that iPhone on my Christmas list, *smile.* Plus, I want to brush up on my Braille skills and at some point learn that new Braille code which everybody throughout the blindness community seems to be talking about. But that's a whole other topic I suppose.

Submitted by mehgcap on Monday, August 21, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

I was surprised to hear you don't use caps lock in place of control and option. You can choose this in the "general" category of the VO Utility. This setting makes most commands easier, since you can just hold caps lock with a pinky and press the rest of the command. In particular, I love it for vo-l, vo-shift-anything, vo-just, and other commands with home row keys.

Submitted by Nicholas on Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Ekaj,
Thanks for your kind words, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I figured that many might have found some of those little tweaks that go beyond the surface level of interaction. Sometimes it's something that we become so comfortable with, we forget that it's a tweak. :-)
When you start learning that Braille code, consider starting a thread. It sounds very interesting.
Thank you again for the comment and for reading my blog.
Best regards.

Submitted by Nicholas on Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello mehgcap,
Thank you for sharing! I just learned a few new things from your comment. One, 'Read Current Line'. Why am I not using this? So many options, so little time. :-)
Using CapsLock as the VO modifier is something I never explored. The option was still set to Control-Option only. I have it set to use either now. I will be working this into my nav-habits. I guess I started with VO before CapsLock was an option. Was it Mountain Lion? My fingers became comfortable and naturally go to Control-Option without thinking.
Thank you again for the excellent comment.
Best regards.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

There were a few things I wasn't aware of before reading this post, so thank you for compiling and writing this!

Submitted by Nicholas on Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Scott,
Thank you for the nice comment! I am always gratified when I can help others do more tweaking. :-)
I learned a few things writing this post, and then again from the great comments.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
Best regards.

Submitted by Abastat on Friday, September 1, 2017

Wow, I only use the numpad commander and I'm so surprised that people even use control option anymore. I haven't used that command in so long I'm not sure why it still exists. Numpad can be configured to do every command in Voiceover and even more with personal hotspots. I haven't put my fingers on control option since I started using this feature years ago. You'll have to configure many commands at first to your liking but once you get it all going it will soon become second nature. It probably took a few months to sort every VO command out and remember things at first but I did it a bit at a time until I never had to use the VO command again. It's especially useful for commands that can have as much as 4 keys such as mouse up down where I only have to hit 1. Of course depending on how you configure it you'll need modifier keys because there are so many commands but they're much more user friendly than the VO keys especially for speed which always is my main concern.

Submitted by Nicholas on Saturday, September 2, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Abastat,
Thank you for the great comment! I do not currently use a numpad. My Mac is a laptop of five years. But, great tip. I kind of do the same as you describe, but using the Keyboard Commander. I had a external Magic Trackpad at one time and had a dozen custom gestures on it as well.
NumPad sounds very intriguing.
Thank you again for the good information. Many people will benefit from it.
Best regards.

Submitted by Kent on Saturday, September 2, 2017

I use a USB keyboard which has the NumPad and I also have it highly customized. The only difference in the keyboard layout is that the Command and Option keys are switched. It works great and does cut down on the intensive keyboard use.

Submitted by Toonhead on Saturday, September 2, 2017

The whole "Yo, Human! thing has always fascinated me, where did the name come from? Is it as if the computer is speaking to a human being and going "yo, human! this is how you do this." Or am I just over-thinking it?? I just had to take the chance to ask, believe me these articles are awesome and very well-written!

Submitted by Nicholas on Sunday, September 3, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Kent,

Thank you for the comment. I will have to look into this more. I have a Windows USB keyboard, maybe I can figure out the mapping. I actually prefer USB now, after doing a long stint with rechargeable AA batteries that slowly die at the most inconvenient moment. :-)
I am very curious now. Thank you for the comment.
Best regards.

Submitted by Nicholas on Sunday, September 3, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Toonhead,

Thanks for asking! The main idea is pretty much what you describe. However, it currently stems from the custom log-on message when I boot my systems. I have/had multiple external drives with different OSs installed. Sometimes a beta partition on the internal as well. I was constantly restarting into different startup configurations. It was nice to have a confirmation after clicking the Restart button. Cool, I chose the right OS.
There is a little back story also, from when Rap was young. Early/mid 90s? No Dictation services, broadband, or built-in microphones yet. Apple Macs had "Text to Speech" and basic speech recognition called Speakable Items. I was creating tutorials and mock-ups of speaking/listening interfaces. Then I would create graphics, animations and sound effects that might be used for such interfaces. I was contracted by educational software companies at the time. One of the interfaces I designed included a favorite verbal command in the k-12 classrooms. "Yo, computer!"
Anyway, thank you for asking. Apologies if I gave you an earful. :-)
I should say, I see your comments all over AppleVis. Speaking as one of the community, thanks for all your contributions as well.
Best regards.

Submitted by Jim Homme on Monday, September 4, 2017

Being something of a new Mac user, I recently discovered that DownArrow+RightArrow starts interacting and DownArrow+LeftArrow stops interacting. This means that it is possible to do a lot of my interactions with my Mac one-handed.

Submitted by Nicholas on Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Jim,

Thank you for the great contribution! It's amazing how versatile Quick Nav can be, using only the Arrow keys. Especially while holding coffee in the other hand.
You may have already mastered this one. On Finder items like folders and files and on most interface elements like buttons, etc, you can press both up and down at once to open or activate the item. Which allows one to stay in one-handed mode. Look Mom, only one hand. :-)
Thanks again for the excellent comment.
Best regards.

Submitted by Socheat on Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I heard people use custom sounds in VoiceOver, how do you set it up? I don't seems to find it in VoiceOver Utility in the sounds category. So, if I want to use custom sounds on my own, is there a way to do that?

Submitted by Nicholas on Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Socheat,

Thank you for the great question. I am not aware of any user settings that still allow one to change the interface sounds, except for the one system alert sound. This includes the VoiceOver settings and sounds. There used to be themes that one could apply that included graphic elements and sounds, but those are not allowed in that way now for security reasons.
You can find out more about changing the alert sound, about mid-way down on the following post. You can also change the VO voice and other settings that effect the way VO speaks.

There are probably some under the surface hacks that might allow deeper customization, but approach these with caution. Unless you really understand the code that is being used, it is very easy to mess up the OS to a point where you must re-install again. System hacks are not for the casual home user. I avoid these myself, since I do not have the time to understand them enough to be safe.
Thank you for the great question, maybe someone else has better information.
Best regards.

Submitted by Chris on Wednesday, October 11, 2017

In order to change VoiceOver sounds, do the following:
Press Command shift g from the Finder and type or paste "/System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/ScreenReader.framework/Versions/A/Resources/Sounds" without the quotes and hit enter. From this window, replace any of the sound files. I recommend backing up this folder before changing anything in it.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

When I first started getting serious about using a Mac 4 years ago, I was doing accessibility training all over the Denver area. I never wanted to customize my Mac, because I wanted to know how to use anyone's Mac, which may or may not have customizations. If I customized mine and forgot the "stock" way to do it, I wouldn't be able to use my client's Mac unless they added the same customization.

This habit of not customizing my Mac has persisted up until just a few months ago. I'm not doing that line of work any longer, and my Mac is my Mac, so I've finally started customizing it.

I wish I had known about Portable Preferences 4 years ago. Portable Preferences was mentioned in the Customizing VoiceOver web page that your blog pointed us to. I think I'll set up a Portable Preferences USB drive now, just in case I ever have to use someone else's Mac in the future.

Call me xenoMacAphobic. Fear of different Macs. LOL.

Submitted by Nicholas on Thursday, October 12, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Chris,

Thanks for the great tip! I'm guessing, after backing up the folder, one would find an 'aif' sound they want to use. Rename it after the sound they want to replace. Then copy/paste theirs into the folder and let it replace the original. Having a backup of the original folder would be important.
There was a game, "Baldur's Gate" that would allow changing the character's sound effects in the same manner. My friends and I would play every Friday night and usually have a new set of home-made sounds to try. The game allowed for up to five players. My favorite was the Three Stooges. If you could imagine... Ow! Oh, wise-guy! Yuck, yuck. Hey Moe, who's driving? Blended with the thematic orchestra of the game.
Thanks again for the tip.
Best regards.

Submitted by Nicholas on Thursday, October 12, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Paul,
Thanks for the reminder about portable preferences. I am just in the beginning stages of training people in Apple Tech here in Michigan. I think I will follow your example. I can see how you'd want everything at standard for certain situations. Maybe set up a "Default" Activity to easily switch between them on my system. Then back them up to Portable Preferences.
Fear of different Macs. Love it! :-)