Speed Up Using Your Mac With Keyboard Commander

Last modified
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
As VoiceOver users on the Mac, we all love short cuts. They make our life and computer experience easier. Most of us are familiar with the basics, when in mail Command N for a new message, and Command Shift D to send that message. We have to learn all of these keyboard commands to use our Macs. I am here to tell you that once you have gotten comfortable using your Mac, there are even more ways to speed up performance. Today I want to discuss Keyboard Commander. Some of you are very familiar with this, but for those of you who aren’t, Keyboard Commander is a most invaluable tool. One of the things I love most about the Mac is there are several ways to accomplish the same task. For example, say you want to open Safari. You can do this by going to your Dock by using VO (Command Option keys and I will refer to as VO keys moving forward) and D. Then type the S and depending on where it is placed in your Dock you will land on Safari. You can also go to your applications folder, open it, enter the keys SA, and quickly jump down to Safari. All of this is accomplished in two or three steps. If you are impatient like me, how about launching Safari in one step? By enabling Keyboard Commander this can be accomplished. To get to Keyboard Commander click VO F8, if you don’t have your Keyboard set up for accessibility than you will also have to hold down the FN Key to launch VoiceOver Utility. Once you get it open,interact with the Utilities Table with VO Shift Down Arrow. Go down until you hear Commanders. Once there, stop interacting with the table with VO Shift Up Arrow. Navigate to the right with VO Right Arrow, and select the tab for Keyboard. Check the box Enable Keyboard Commander. You can check the box with the space bar. You will get a pop up that tells you that Keyboard Commander has been enabled. Click OK, and continue to the right, as you will have to select a launch key for Keyboard Commander. I have chosen to use the right command key which on an Apple Keyboard is right next to the left Arrow Button. You can choose any key you like and I would suggest choosing a key that feels natural to you for when you have your hands on the keyboard. Once you have selected a key to use, continue to the right and interact with the Keyboard Commander table. You will find that Apple has populated the list with a couple of the commonly used Keyboard Commands. Safari is in the table and set to S. Go ahead and press the key you have chosen as your Keyboard Commander launch key and the letter S. If you have set up everything correctly than Safari will open. Yes, isn’t that cool, and more importantly quick. So how do you personalize the Keyboard Commander and set up programs that you often use? It’s simple. If you are still in the Keyboard Commander table, stop interacting with it, then move to the right. You will find an Add button. Click the Add button with VO space bar. This will take you in to an edit field where you can enter a key for a program. Say you want to set up Pages to launch by using the letter P. Enter the letter p in this box.  Just a heads-up that the keys you set are case sensitive. You can set the letter P for two programs one to launch with a lower case p and one to launch with an upper case p. To keep things simple I use all lower case letters in Keyboard Commander. Also take in to account should you often use the caps lock key, and you have set a program to launch with a lower case p, the program will not launch if caps lock is selected. Got all that? Ok, so you have just entered a lower case p in to the box, VO right arrow over to the Command Men Button, and VO space bar on it. This opens a drop down menu. You need to go to the last option, Custom Commands, and you can either Arrow down to it or use the VO Shift Right Arrow to quickly jump to the end. You will need to go in to the Sub Menu and select the first option Open Application. This will open your standard window as if you were attaching a file to an email. I find this pop up is easiest to navigate in List View, and if you are in List View you will want to go to the first pop down menu and make sure your Applications are selected. Once you have selected your Applications in the drop down menu, you will want to move to your right and interact with the table.  We are setting a Commander for Pages, so once you are interacting with the table hit the letter P to jump down to Pages. Note if you have another program that starts with the letter P this could come up for you prior to Pages. Also if you bought Pages in a bundle with Numbers you might have to go to iWorks in this list and then select Pages there. It all depends how you purchased it. Once you have selected Pages, the window will close, and that’s it, you have now set a Keyboard Commander. Yes, these directions might sound long, but all you have to do it set a Keyboard Commander up once, and once you have done it a few times, you will be amazed at how quickly you will fly through these steps. And why have to go through three or more steps to open your most used programs when you can do it all in one. Another great thing about making use of Keyboard Commander is it is a great way to toggle through open programs, as you just have to hit your Command key with the key you have set to launch the program. Here is a list of the keys I make use of. You will notice that I changed the mail launch key to Z, as I am constantly trying to get to my mail, and the Z key felt much more natural to me. As previously mentioned, I use the right command key as my Keyboard Commander key. A Abby Fine Reader, C Google Chrome, D Downcast, G RS Games, I iTunes, k Skype, m Messages, n Numbers, p Pages, r Read Kit, s Safari, u Mute VoiceOver Toggle, y YoruFukurou, z Mail. The possibilities are endless and I can’t remember the last time I actually used the dock to launch one of these programs. If you use Keyboard Commanders, please do let us know which programs you love launching with them, and what keys you find most natural.


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Submitted by brandon armstrong on Thursday, November 21, 2013

hi there, thanks for this, I'm going to try adding shortcuts. I do have one question though, are there shortcuts for shutting down, restarting, and putting your mac to sleep with out having to go through the apple menu? if they do exist, what are the shortcuts for doing this, I use to know them, but can't remember what they are.

Submitted by WildmanJoe on Thursday, November 21, 2013

In reply to by brandon armstrong

Actually, there are some keyboard shortcuts for shutdown and sleep and stuff. of course, Apple does not mention them anywhere, at least I have not seen them. I happened to find a list on Google, but it took some digging. Anyway, here they are. I hope this helps. 1. Power button, Turn off your Mac or put it to sleep. 2. Hold down the Power button, Force your Mac to shut down. 3. Command Control Power button, Force your mac to restart. 4. Control Media Eject, Show restart/sleep/shutdown dialog. 5. Command Option Media Eject, Put the computer to sleep. 6. Command Control Media Eject, Quit all applications (after giving you a chance to save changes to open documents), then restart the computer. 7. Command Option Control Media Eject, Quit all applications (after giving you a chance to save changes to open documents), then shut down the computer. 8. Shift Control Media Eject, Put all displays to sleep. Note, the Eject is on the upper right corner of the keyboard, at least it is on my machine. These commands should work for all mac users though.

Thanks for posting these helpful links. As someone who lives on the iMac, I only put it to sleep when I go to sleep, and do so with the keys command option eject, but as this list shows there are plenty of preprogramed shortcut keys available.

Just thought I'd give the link to the Apple Knowledge Base documentt of OS X Keyboard shorcuts:


They include combinations for the sleep and shutdownd (though without the nice additional annotations you give).  I included this link in my recent reply to Cliff's forum thread: "Keyboard shortcuts in Mavericks when using international keyboard layouts". You can find this, and similar Knowledge Base articles, by doing a Google search like "apple support keyboard shortcuts".  At least, that works for me.  

Hi all Got my macbook pro yesterday and am enjoying it so far. I saw in the keyboard commander table that there is a command for reading the date/time using apple script. I glanced at the scripts folder and they don't seem that hard to create. Does someone know if there is an already created script for reading battery percentage level and time remaining, similar to shift insert b for jaws/NDVA? That would be a nice command instead of having to VO m twice in to the extras menu. Maybe scripts for giving wifi and bluetooth status as well?


There was a beta of talking dash board around that would let you install these scripts, In fact they were the scripts. You would copy them in to your scripts folder and use vo short cuts to access them. I don't have access to it anymore but a google should help. Takecare.

Submitted by dionipher on Thursday, January 16, 2014

it seems like it don't work with itunes. every time use this on itunes it ill bring up a message that i should have a library first to to open the library but i already have one.

Submitted by blindgator on Thursday, January 16, 2014

In reply to by dionipher

Are you having this library problem when you open iTunes through your applications? As Keyboard Commander should not effect your library in anyway. Keyboard commander works perfectly fine with iTunes, and I think iTunes might even be one of the preprogrammed keyboard commanders. It sounds like you might have a library issue. Are more than one person with different iTunes accounts using your computer?

Submitted by Ekaj on Friday, February 21, 2014

Hello. Thanks for these helpful tips. I have seen Keyboard Commander but haven't really checked it out yet. Same with the Apple Script checkbox. I will try these out on my MBA, and then show them to my sister and her tutor so that she can learn them too and maybe start using them. Perhaps this is the answer to my lack of a low-battery alert. If not, thanks anyway.

Hi guys! Just thought I'd jump in to say that I have also had this issue with iTunes and keyboard commander since first starting to use the keyboard commander. I also use the right option-key, and I think this is where the problem lais. Cause holding option while clicking on the iTunes icon to start iTunes, is the normal way of bringing up the dialogue for choosing which iTunes library to be loaded. This is used for people who has more than 1 library that they want to switch between, e.g. for backing up several different iDevices to the same user account on the Mac, you can do this by creating one new library for each individual iDevice you want to backup. Anyway, the fix for this is just to release the option-key immediately after hitting the assosiated letter to open iTunes, in my case it's the letter I. So if I press right option-I and hold it for 1 second or two before releasing, I can be sure that the library chooser pops up. But if I hit option, hold it, press I and then release both really fast, before iTunes has gotten the time to realise that it's about to launch, everythings fine. Another fix would probably be just to switch the key used for keyboard commander to something else than option, and that should work fine too, although I haven't tried it myself... And frankly, I don't know if let's say the Command key does anything else if being pressed when starting iTunes, so I can't be completely sure... That might for all I know be the shortcut to delete your whole iTunes library from the surface of the earth, so don't blame me if you're out of luck on trying that! Lols! :) Hth

Submitted by Ekaj on Friday, February 21, 2014

Hi. I tried clicking on the Apple link given in an earlier reply here, but no dice even after I tabbed and tried to read the HTML content with a Say-All Vo A. But what I did manage to do last night was to create a shortcut for having VoiceOver speak the date and time.

Submitted by Chelsea on Saturday, February 22, 2014

A number of people have been asking how to make their mac say a battery percentage in one keystroke. Here is a link to the Mac for the Blind freeware and Applications page, on which you will find the script file. Insert it in the proper directory, assign a keyboard command to it, and always know what your power status is. http://macfortheblind.com/?page_id=201