Help getting used to screen readers and voices

macOS & Mac Apps

I am going blind, but have some vision left. Recently I've started to get double vision from time to time using my Mac, so am getting worried that it might not be too long before I won't be able to rely on my eyes any more.

I've been through the Mac's VoiceOver tutorial and started reading the guide on here but I'm finding it hard to really get started properly. I get bamboozled by all the different keyboard commands I need to remember, and when I have a voice talking incessantly at me I find it hard to think.
On the one-hand it's just telling me too much, but on the other if it doesn't read out the help I'm never going to remember what to do.

I'm just wondering if anyone has any advice for getting into this, particularly whilst I still have sight to fall back on? I'm finding it too easy to just give up and go back to reading.

As a side-note I am using Alexa to read my Kindle to me. She sounds a lot more natural than voiceover (which is very computery and often gets pronunciation wrong). But even so I still find that a lot of the time what she says just glosses over me. I am also using audio descriptive soundtracks on netflix which is a bit more tolerable.



Submitted by Pyro2790 on Saturday, September 12, 2020

There are a variety of voices you can use with VoiceOver. Press VoiceOver (which is command option, or the caps lock key if that is set as your voice over key), along with f8. This will bring you into the voiceOver utility. In the Utilities category table find the speech option. In the Voices tab you can interact with the table and select a voice you would prefer. My preference is the Karen compact voice. I find this Voice to be easiest to use. Others prefer using the default Alex voice, but for some reason I have a hard time understanding it especially as I increase the rate. Hopefully you can find a voice in this area that you would prefer to use. IN terms of learning it can definitely be hard to get use to using a mac and learning the commands. The only way to get better is to try and make yourself accomplish a task such as trying to read an email or reading a website. The only way to get more comfortable with it is to keep practicing and committing the commands and interactions to memory. I personally still prefer windows, but I keep using my mac as well to try and keep up with VoiceOver. The more I get myself to use it I begin to be more comfortable with things I would normally accomplish on windows.

Submitted by Orlando on Saturday, September 12, 2020

I understand exactly what you are talking about. I had the same problems when I got my first Mac. I would recommend find yourself some braille dots or some kind of way to put dots on certain keys on your keyboard. Like your voice over keys. The link that I’m going to put at the end of this reply has the list of voice over commands and the keyboard layouts for different things in voiceover on the Mac. If you can book market I would recommend doing so. I refer back to it quite often.
Hope you are well
Have a good weekend!…

Submitted by Daniel Angus MacDonald on Sunday, September 13, 2020

Club AppleVis Member


you can always read the VoiceOver getting started guied. also try try if you are close to an Apple store, you can call ahead, and have an Apple representative tell you what to do. Apple one-to-one is back, but by appointment only, and that is great.

Submitted by Siobhan on Sunday, September 13, 2020

Hi. One of the things some blind people do is have their speech rate at an insanely fast level. Someone has already suggested using a different voice. Be warned there are some crazy offerings like bad news, I think pipe organ and things like that. personally, I would love to uncheck those rediculous ones and get rid of them. It bugs me they are on here. I'd recommend finding as natural sounding speech as you can. The compact voices are smaller and don't sound in my opinion as good as the full versions. I would slow down the speech to something that you will probably want to go crazy but perhaps that will help. I'd be happy to help in any way possible.

I think it makes a lot of sense for me to try having maybe a daily task to try to complete with VoiceOver. Just something small to start the journey. I'll have a go with the other voices too, although they all sounded a bit artificial to me when I tried them before.

Out of interest, when you say you prefer Windows, is this with JAWS? I've not been impressed with stock Windows accessibility options compared to the Mac.

Really appreciate your reply - and also all the others on here. Will try to learn the keyboard shortcuts and then put something into practice and see if I can crack it. I might also try turning the verbosity down and even if it means less help for me it might be less overwhelming too.

I found the options you mentioned - for me they were disabled by default anyway, but I found I could disable some voices I wasn't using and it offered to delete them for me, so I think you can get rid of ones you don't want.

Switched to UK English Siri female, lowered the rate a little and set verbosity to Low and it's a lot less intimidating now. She sounds almost human. Low verbosity still seems to give help after a little pause. But she doesn't say 'tickbox about 20 times when I enter a tickbox which was really annoying me before. :)

Submitted by mr grieves on Sunday, September 13, 2020

Reading through the help, including the Safari guide on here, and on apple's accessibility site, and I think the problem is that everything is assuming some sort of prior knowledge or experience. The VoiceOver tutorial when you open it up first time is OK, but I found it wen into some very specific things almost immediately and brushed part the rudimentary bits. I think I need some more basic tutorials that could tell me how to accomplish some specific tasks in the simplest way possible.

At the moment I open Safari and can just about get into the web content using VO+Shift+Down although I sometimes get a bit lost in the browser chrome. (Toolbar - toolbar - toolbar - toolbar - argh I don't want the toolbar!)

I then struggle to get it to really read anything useful. In my mind I should be pointing it at the main content area and sitting back and letting it do its thing. But sometimes it won't read anything, sometimes it just reads the top toolbar on the site then stops. I can browse to the first main heading on the page, but then it just stops. Sometimes if I then use the right arrow key it'll move to each element in turn and read it. Sometimes it starts reading each letter in turn. Sometimes I need to use the down arrow instead of navigate through the content. I'm not sure how to get it to read everything from that point on until I say otherwise.

When it does read things I guess it must do each html element and then stop and tell me what the element is. So if there's a paragraph with a link, or some different lines of text I need to keep asking for more, and half of what I'm being told is 'text element' or 'link, press space to activate' or whatever. And if you want it to repeat link text, for example, using VO+Z it'll just say "link element, press space to activate" or something but doesn't repeat the bit I need to know. (IE what the link said)

As a test, I tried googling 'Designated Survivor', managed to open a tab, search for it, and get into the wikipedia entry. I managed to get to the heading and it told me it was a TV series, but I couldn't really find my way to any actual content. I managed to find my way to the back button but when you click it, you get no indication that anything has happened. I managed to get to the bit of the google search where it told me about the show, but I couldn't get to the second entry after wikipedia.

It really does feel like I'm learning how to use a computer for the first time.

Submitted by Ekaj on Sunday, September 13, 2020

Another thing to try--if you haven't already--is Keyboard Help. I'm pretty sure this feature is available in all screen readers, or at least it is in each one I've used. But anyway, it can be turned on by holding down Control and Option, and pressing the letter K. Or Caps Lock and K, depending on how your option is set. But when this is on, pressing a key by itself or an entire command will not do anything other than tell you its function. To turn off Keyboard help for VoiceOver on the Mac just hit the Escape key, or press Control-Option-K or Capslock-K again. Hope this helps. I'd also like to second the suggestion about contacting your local Apple store. That's what I and a sister both did when we first got our Macs, and the training which we received was very helpful. One note of caution though which you may already be aware of. It can get pretty crowded in an Apple store; it certainly does in my neck of the woods. That can make VoiceOver hard to hear even at maximum volume. So a headset might be a good thing to take along. I only wish I had one when I was being trained at the Apple store. Best of luck with all this, and I hope you enjoy your Mac. I am certainly enjoying mine.

Submitted by Pyro2790 on Sunday, September 13, 2020

I haven't had any success using a different browser on Mac with VoiceOver. Brave and Chrome are difficult to use with Safari. I'ts unfortunate that best use is with the built in stock browser when Chrome and Brave are way faster. VoiceOver seems to get stuck in too many places.

Submitted by mr grieves on Monday, September 14, 2020

In Safari, is there a way I can just get it to read from wherever I am down the page without me having to keep pressing buttons? E.g. I find the heading I'm interesting in, hit go and sit back and listen?

Ok I'll write this step by step. You'll want to turn on what's called the track pad commander. Think of it like your iPhone, or Apple watch if you have one. I use that a little more then the keyboard. You want to go into system preferences, and to track pad. You take two fingers and place them spaced apart on the litttle space under the keyboard. Like the old touch pad mouses on laptops. Mice. Then turn them to the right. You'll hear a little sound and "Trackpad on." Now when you go into safari, you can use it to change from headings, to links to text fields. Also remember that a lot of things you dislike about being told, can be turned off. As in the hints and some toolbars. Btw, Firefox isn't terrible with Voice over. To keep reading the place you are at, you'll gesture with two fingers down the pad. As if you are wiping something off. Keep asking these questions. Be careful you don't bump the track pad when you are writing. It takes focus all wonky. Btw the way to change from say headings to links, take twofingers as though turning a knob and turn other left or right and it will wrap around. So links headings, fields, links. sorry this is a little messed up.

Submitted by mr grieves on Monday, September 14, 2020

Thanks very much for the reply. Unfortunately I'm on an iMac so don't have a trackpad. I don't think I can use the magic mouse in a similar way can I?

Submitted by Daniel Angus MacDonald on Monday, September 14, 2020

Club AppleVis Member

the magic mouse is completely different than the magic trackpad. if you can, get an external trackpad and the trackpad commander will work. they're $50.00 Canadian. I learned before macs had trackpads, and personally find them more of a hindrance than a help. I wonder if I'll find the touch bar a hindrance as well?

Submitted by Pyro2790 on Monday, September 14, 2020

If you want to read an article or a news story under a heading and have VoiceOver continuously read the page press VoiceOver A. So that would be Control Option A or caps lock A. Additionally if you want to put content of an article into reader mode you can press Command, Shift R. When you are finish reading the content press escape to close the reader view.

Submitted by Siobhan on Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Hi. It will be easier, I think if you have the external track pad. Or should youchoose to buy a laptop, you obviously have one built in. For me, I enjoy swiping down as a sighted person does on the old touch pad style mouse. I don't understand why someone may not enjoy that but to each their own. For the track pad, it's just another way of doing things. I don't care for the keyboard only access to an operating system. As you are comfortable using a mouse, this might be a bit more familiar. If you are in America, I can check the magic track pad's price. Don't buy from Apple simply because they can be higher priced then Amazon and the like. Ok on a quick search, Amazon has the Magic track pad for $123.99 which I was surprised it was so expensive. But it's wireless and rechargable so I know that can be costly. If I can help more please keep responding.

Submitted by Justin on Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Hello Pyro,
When you say the command key, you're referring to the control key, not the command key. So, it'd be CTRL+Option+A for the read from cursor to end of page/document. Just correcting you on it. Also, like you said, the capslock key is a great alternative to the VO keys.

Submitted by Pyro2790 on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Thanks Justin. I did mean the control key. I have updated my previous post to reflect the correction. I typically use the caps lock key instead.

Submitted by mr grieves on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Thank you so much for all the replies. So I took what you said above, found my way to opening Safari, navigated to a site, found the reviews section and then had it read a whole review out to me. Which might not sound like much but it's the first time I've actually accomplished a task I wanted to do.

Not without its frustrations - plenty of mispronunciations, and various times it just said random stuff like "slideshow, slideshow, slideshow, slideshow" but it worked.

I guess this is where the penny drops and I realise that video reviews are going to make more sense long-term but this is a great start. I'll try to complete at least one basic task every day until I feel up to trying something more advanced.

Regarding the trackpad, I think I'm going to carry on getting on without it for the time being, but screen reader thing becomes a little less alien, then I might consider making the experience more enjoyable. (Unless I see it cheap anywhere).

I'm also annoyed that I didn't pay more to get the keyboard with the number pad, and even more annoyed that they do a 'space grey' version which is white on black. I can't read any of th keys on my silver Mac keyboard at all and my touch typing is a bit of a mixed bag whereas the space grey one looks quite usable for the moment. So that's about 260 pounds if I buy both of them from Apple. (Which I probably wouldn't). Ouch.

Anyway, thanks very much everyone for all the help - you've helped me take my first steps which means a lot to me.

One other thing, if anyone else wanders into this topic, I found a really grey YouTube video by 'blind Insider' on getting started with VoiceOver which assumes no real knowledge of anything at all. It's good because he just achieves a few simple tasks and doesn't go overboard trying to tell you everything. He's also promising a follow-up 'soon' on web browsing which I hope will be equally as informative. It's here if anyone wants it:

I'm in the UK btw.