The other day, a few folks and I were comparing stories about switching to a Mac, and trying to build a case for some others to switch as well. The greatest complaint that evening was how Voiceover is less responsive than a screen reader in Windows. This got me to thinking of what the differences were, and through experimentation, have figured out a few tips to make Voiceover as responsive as you want it to be. At this point, I dare to say my Voiceover is just as responsive as the leading Windows screen reader, and it won't take near the chunk out of the wallet, either!
The voice: While the RealSpeak voices sound wonderful when they talk to you, and Alex breathes between sentences, these are not the most responsive voices for Voiceover. If you can stand it, switch your voice to Fred, which has been around on a Mac since the beginning, but is small, and responsive. Granted, he sounds like he has marbles in his mouth, but switching to this voice really does increase Voiceover's responsiveness.
Sounds: While all the navigation clicks, squalks, beeps and chirps are great for quickly identifying things, they actually decrease VO's responsiveness. Turn them off by going to the Voiceover pain with VO-F8, navigating to sounds, and unchecking the box.
Other considerations: If sounds are off, you will have to change some of the other options that you may have set to play sounds so they will speak, but the trade-off really is decreased lag in the UI while using Voiceover. I made all these changes on my Quad-core MacBook Pro, but if you have anything specked less than that, I'm sure you will really notice a difference.
I'd be curious to know of any other tips you may have about improving Voiceover's responsiveness.
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