Getting started with your Mac using VoiceOver

Number one rule - Voiceover is primarily designed to be operated from the keyboard by using MacOS or Voiceover keyboard commands, not the mouse.

When turning on your Mac for the first time, verify where the power button is. For example: On my MacBook Pro, it’s above and diagonally to the right of the Eject key on the keyboard: a slightly indented round button. On my MacBook air, it’s the right most key on the top row of keys on the keyboard. On my iMac, it’s a round flush button on the back left hand side as you look at the machine. Sounds obvious, but I always got stuck trying to find the power button to turn the Mac on.

General locations of ports on Mac desktops and laptops.

Mac desktops: ports at the back and down towards the bottom edge on the right hand side.

Mac laptops: ports on both sides. On MacBooks, the inbuilt trackpad is in front of the Space bar.

Apple keyboards (Magic keyboard), trackpads (Magic trackpad), and mice (Magic mouse).

The Bluetooth Magic keyboard used on iMacs is the same layout as the keyboard in Apple’s range of laptops. Apple also offers an extended Magic keyboard with numeric keys.

The Bluetooth Magic trackpad that can come with the iMac is the same as the trackpad in the range of laptops, and can be used by Voiceover. Note: if you wanted to, you could use the Bluetooth Magic trackpad on a Mac laptop as well.

The Bluetooth Magic mouse that can come with the iMac is not accessible with Voiceover. If you wanted to, you could use the Bluetooth Magic mouse on a Mac laptop as well. The reason for mentioning the possibility of running a second Bluetooth Magic Trackpad or Bluetooth Magic mouse, is for Voiceover users you could have the trackpad in a MacBook being utilized by Voiceover, and then the external Bluetooth Magic trackpad or Magic mouse being used as the mouse, a benefit if you need sighted assistance and the person only knows how to use the mouse.

Positions of major keys on the standard Apple keyboard that’s on MacBooks or comes with the iMac: i.e. the keyboards that have no numeric keypad.

4 keys to the left of the Space bar from left to right are: Function (FN) : for accessing an alternative state of the Function keys current setting on the top row of the keyboard. Also used to change the state of the Arrow keys. Control: Control key. Option: Option key. Command : Command key. Escape key: top row, first from left.

Function keys 1 through 12: top row, starting second in from the left: Function key 1, and then through to Function key 12 going from left to right.

Arrow keys: Inverted capital letter t bottom right of keyboard. up Up arrow, bottom Down arrow, left Left arrow, and right Right arrow. When held down with the Function key: top Page up, bottom Page down, left Home, and right End.

Delete key: second row from the top, right most key. Note - there is no Back space key on a Mac keyboard.

Enter or Return key: home row with the dots on the letter h and J keys, far most right key.

If Voiceover is not talking on the Mac you are using, press the Command key (key to the left of the Space bar) and press Function key 5. If you’re using a Mac with a Touch Bar, press and hold the Command key and quickly press the power/touchID button three times. This is known as a toggle command, so pressing this combination will toggle Voiceover on and off.

If you are thinking you are not getting any sound out of the Mac because someone has muted or turned down the volume: press function key 12 volume up, 11 volume down or 10 to toggle mute on or off. You can also press VO equals to increase volume or VO dash to decrease volume.

If Voiceover is being run for the first time on the Mac, you will hear a welcome dialog asking you to press the v key if you know how to use Voiceover or Space bar if you would like to learn how to use Voiceover. Pressing V will run Voiceover, and Space will start the Voiceover Quick Start tutorial.

Note - if Voiceover has been previously run on a Mac, Voiceover will come up straightaway without this prompt.

The keys that Voiceover uses for most of its commands start with the Control and Option keys held down together and are referred to as the Voiceover or VO keys for short. For example, if you wanted to explore the keyboard with Voiceover keyboard help: you would hold down Control, Option, and k: written as VO k (pressing Escape exits Voiceover keyboard help).

Particularly in Australia, the default speech synthesizer for Voiceover on the Mac is called Lee, and is very hard to understand. To get Voiceover to use the much clearer Alex voice, press VO F8 to open Voiceover Utility, once this comes up, the voice should have changed to Alex, and then just press Command Q to quit Voiceover Utility.

To adjust the speech synthesizer preferences (rate, pitch, volume, intonation, and voice) that Voiceover uses: Hold down VO Command Shift keys all together, and at the same time, press Left or Right arrows to cycle between the speech synthesizer options, when you get to the item you want (still holding down VO Command Shift keys), use the Up or Down arrows to adjust that item. For example, hold down VO Command Shift Right arrow until you hear rate, and then Up arrow to speed up the voice each time you press the Up arrow, or Down arrow to slow down the voice each time you press the Down arrow.

To access the Voiceover Help menu at any time, press VO H. This will give you access to: user guide, Commands help menu (listing all Voiceover commands by category), keyboard help (explore the keyboard by having Voiceover speak the keys), Sounds help (what the sounds are that Voiceover uses), and Quick Start tutorial. To Navigate the Voiceover Help menu, press up or down arrow to get to the choice you wish to use, and press Enter to select. To exit the Voiceover Help menu, just press Escape .

For example, VO H to access the Voiceover Help menu, Down arrow until you hear Quick Start, and then press Enter to access the Quick Start tutorial.

If you wish to activate Voiceover gestures (called Voiceover trackpad commander) on either the inbuilt trackpad on a MacBook or on a connected Bluetooth trackpad: hold down the VO keys and do a two finger clockwise rotate on the trackpad to turn it on (two finger counter clockwise turns it off). If it detects a trackpad, the Quick Start tutorial will take the user through using Voiceover gestures. Voiceover keyboard help (VO K) can also be used to practice gestures on the trackpad.

When you arrive at your Mac’s desktop screen, it will either be blank with no icons or contain icons for files or drives which the Mac calls volumes (by default your hard drive volume called Macintosh HD is hidden from the desktop). At the top of the screen will be the Menu bar (Apple, Finder, File, Edit etc), and at the bottom of the screen will be the Dock (containing Finder, Mail, Safari etc).

You can always move the focus to the desktop, menu bar or Dock at any time by using these 3 Voiceover commands: VO M for menu bar, VO D for Dock, and VO Shift D for desktop.

Some points about the Menu bar.

When you move to the menu bar with VO M, you will always land on the Apple menu. If you then press the Right arrow , you will move across the menu options for Finder, File etc. To reveal the options for a particular menu, just press Down arrow, keep using Down arrow to get to the option you want to use, and then press Enter. Pressing Escape will always back out of a sub-menu or the main menu bar.

There is also a second menu (called Menu Extras) that you can access by pressing VO M again which contains such items as Bluetooth, wifi connection , Volume, Battery (if you are on a laptop), Clock, etc. To navigate these menu headings you will have to use the Voiceover keys with the Left or Right arrows (you are now using Voiceover commands to go to the next or previous item), to select a menu, press VO Space: you can now use the up or down Arrows to navigate the menu, and press Enter to choose an option. Like the main menu bar, Escape works the same way.

The main menu bar will always show you what application is currently being used by changing the name of the 2nd menu (the one after the Apple menu). So when you are in Finder, the 2nd menu item will be Finder, if you are in Mail, the 2nd menu will be Mail, if you are in Safari the 2nd menu item will be Safari , etc. The main menu bar is also where you access the command to close down your Mac. Press VO M for main menu, Down Arrow on the Apple menu, keep pressing Down Arrow until you hear shut down, and press Enter twice to close down your Mac.

Some points about the Dock.

Move to the dock with VO D. The Dock contains applications that you can access any time without having to access your Applications folder on your Mac. You have a number of preset applications already on the Dock including Mail, Safari etc. If you do run an application from your Applications folder, it will also appear in the Dock while you are using it, and then disappear when you quit that application.

Once you are on the Dock, press Left or Right Arrow to move between the applications on the Dock, and press Enter to select an application.

Some points about the desktop.

Move to the desktop with VO Shift D. If you want to move between files or volumes on the desktop, press Tab or Shift Tab to move to the next or previous item on the desktop, and then press Command O to open that item. If you press Enter on an application, document, volume etc, that item will be highlighted to allow you to give it a new name: it does not open that item.

If you stick a USB key in to your Mac, it will appear on your desktop. Tab or Shift Tab to the volume (USB stick name), and press Command O to open. To eject a USB stick or other external volume (drive), when you are on that item, press Command E to eject the volume safely.

When you are at the desktop, you are also in what is called the Finder. The Finder allows you to get access to all the applications, folders, and documents that are on your Mac. The Finder itself is also considered to be an application in its own wright. So if you were using Mail, you would still be running two applications on your Mac; Mail and Finder.

When you are in the Finder, you can quickly jump to 5 main folders on your Mac:

  • Command Shift A will take you to the Applications folder (all applications installed on your Mac including Mail, Safari, Textedit, etc.)
  • Command Shift O will take you to the Documents folder (where the documents you create are saved by default).
  • Command Shift U will take you to the Utilities folder (these are specific utility applications, and is also where Voiceover utility for further customizing Voiceover is stored).
  • Command Option L will take you to the Downloads folder (files downloaded by Safari from the Internet are stored here by default).
  • Command Shift H will take you to your main Home folder which actually contains the Documents and Downloads folder. The Applications folder contains the Utilities folder as well, with the Applications folder being under your Macintosh HD volume.

If you want to just close the current folder window that’s open, press Command W, or to close all Windows that you may have open in Finder, press Command Option W.

Changing the view in a Volume or folder.

In any volume or folder that you access on your Mac including the Applications, Documents, Downloads, Utilities, and Home folder, you can change the way that the folder is displayed on the screen.

On a new Mac or the first time you have accessed a new volume, the starting view will be in icon view. For Voiceover users, it is recommended that you use the List view. So rather than having a grid or table of icons on the screen, you just have a list. To switch to List View, press Command 2. If at any time you want to go back to icon view, press Command 1.

Once you have changed a volume or folders view, the next time you go back in to it, it will be in the last view you used. This command will not work when you are just sitting at the desktop.

Finding something on your Mac using Spotlight.

Press Command Space bar to bring up Spotlight. Type what you want to find, a list will come up automatically, Down Arrow through the list, and if you find what you want, press Enter to access. Otherwise, press Escape to exit.

To run an application on your Mac from the Applications folder: Make sure you are in the Finder, Pressing Command Shift A will take you to the Applications folder (remember if it’s not in List View, press Command 2), Press up or down arrows to move down or up the list of applications, and when you get to the application you wish to use, press Command O to open.

To quit an application, press Command Q.

When you are in an application such as Mail, Safari or Textedit for example, Command Tab will switch you to the next running application, including taking you also back to the Finder.

Some notes on using Mail.

Command N to create new message, Tab or Shift Tab to move between fields, and when ready to send the message press Command Shift D.

Tab or Shift Tab takes you between your mailbox list and the list of Messages. Up or Down arrow moves up or down the list of mail boxes or Messages. When you are on the message you want to read, press VO j to read the message content and then VO J to jump back to the list of messages.

Some notes on using Safari.

To open up a webpage, press Command L, type in a web address, and press Enter .

By default, if you want to move through links on a webpage, hold down the Option key and press Tab or Shift Tab to move to the previous or next link on the webpage. Pressing Enter on a link will activate that link.

If you want to read the screen with Voiceover, VO Left or Right Arrows will move you up and down the screen, and VO Space will activate a link if you have moved on to it.

Some notes on using Textedit.

When you go in to Textedit, you will be placed in the editing Area. To let Voiceover know that you wish to stay in this area (particularly if you start using Voiceover navigation commands), use the start interacting command which is VO Shift Down Arrow : the stop interacting command by the way is VO Shift Up Arrow if you want to use Voiceover commands to explore the rest of the screen.

Up or down arrows will move you down or up a line, Left or Right Arrows move by character, and Option Left or Right Arrows will move by word.

If you have typed some text in to Textedit and you press Command Q, you will be presented with a dialog box asking what you wish to do with this current document, press Tab or Shift Tab to go through options of Delete (get rid of document), Cancel (return to document) or Save (save document).

Voiceover will alert you of any mis-spelled words. If you want to jump to any mis-spelled words you may have in your document, use the Voiceover command VO Command E or VO Shift Command E to search forward or backward through the document. To highlight, press Shift plus Arrows, to speak back what has been highlighted by Voiceover press VO F6, and then Command C to copy, Command X to cut or Command V to paste.

Typing text in to your Mac: for example typing a new message or in a Textedit document.

When moving the cursor, you will be to the right of the item if moving right or left of the item when moving left. For example, if you type the word, “Dog,” the cursor is to the right of the letter g, if you press the Left Arrow you will here g as the cursor is now to the left of the letter g or when you finished typing in the word dog, pressed Option Left Arrow you would hear the word dog again with the cursor being to the left of the letter d, if you pressed Option Right Arrow you would hear dog again with the cursor now being to the right of the letter g at the end of the word dog. In other words, the cursor is never on a letter, it’s always to the left or right of the letter. So if you want to delete a character, you need to be to the right of the character to delete it.

Changing the way Voiceover echoes keyboard input.

When you type on the keyboard using Voiceover, each key you press is echoed. You can change this by bringing up the Voiceover verbosity dialog with VO V, typing echo is the first option, press Down Arrow to the desired option (such as character and word), and press Enter. To abort, just press Escape.

If you are now in character and word keyboard echo mode, when you type in to a new message or in a document, each character will be echoed, and when you press the Space or a punctuation mark the word you have just typed in will be also announced (quite handy for picking up typing mistakes on the spot).

Getting Voiceover to tell you where you are.

To know what application you are currently in, what window (file, document, webpage etc) or what item Voiceover is currently on, use the following commands:

  • VO F1: current application (such as Safari).
  • VO F2: Current Window (such as Apple Accessibility webpage).
  • VO F3: current Voiceover item (text or link that the Voiceover cursor is sitting on).

Some Voiceover Navigation commands

  • VO C: read current character.
  • VO W: read current word.
  • VO L: read current line.
  • VO P: read current paragraph.
  • VO B: read from beginning.
  • VO A: read from current Voiceover position.

The commands to read the current item are useful because they do not move the actual cursor.

Using the Voiceover Web Rotor in Safari.

To allow a Voiceover user to efficiently access headings, links, form controls etc, the web rotor will bring up a list of these items that you can then navigate to. Press VO U to bring up the web rotor, Left or Right Arrows to select your desired element (link, heading etc), up or down arrow to go through that list of items, and press enter on the item you want.

Note: pressing Enter on an item just moves the Voiceover cursor to that item, it does not activate that item.

The Voiceover Trackpad Commander (see above) if on, uses a two finger rotate clockwise or counter clockwise to go through the various web rotor options, and then a one finger flick up or down will move to the next occurrence of that item.

Another option called Quick Nav will also access this rotor as well. Press Left and Right Arrows together to toggle Quick Nav on or off. When on, Up/Left or Up/Right Arrows moves through the various web rotor options, and then Up or Down Arrows moves to the next or previous occurrence of that item. Both Trackpad and Quick Nav will allow navigation in Finder or in applications as well. However, the rotor option is then just known as the rotor and only has options for moving by character, word, or navigation.

Voiceover keyboard commander.

To make it faster to access Mail, Safari, and to know what the current time/date is you can activate the Voiceover keyboard commander. Press VO Shift K (this toggles the Voiceover keyboard commander on or off): now you can press Right Option plus S to run Safari, M for Mail or T to find out what the current date/time is. You can also configure your own commander shortcuts in Voiceover Utility.

The cursors that Voiceover keeps track of and can jump to.

Voiceover keeps track of its own Voiceover cursor, the keyboard focus, and the mouse pointer. By default, the Voiceover and keyboard cursors are usually on the same item. To check the location of each of these 3 main cursors:

VO F3: Voiceover cursor item.

VO F4: keyboard focus item.

VO F5: mouse cursor item.

Some tips and comments.

  • If you have the Voiceover trackpad commander on: a three finger double tap toggles speech output on or off, which can be a trap for beginner users. i.e. if they think Voiceover is not working, they will do Command F5 to turn Voiceover off and on again: but will hear: Voiceover on, speech off.
  • Use Quick Look to access PDF files or to listen to an audio file without having to bring up iTunes.
  • A three finger triple tap on the trackpad if Voiceover trackpad Commander is on will toggle screen curtain, which blanks the screen for privacy so that other people will not be able to see what is being used on the Mac.
  • Press FN twice to invoke dictation (say in Textedit), speak for 30 seconds or less, press FN once, and spoken words will be translated into text.
  • If a user cannot remember how to spell a word, if they have partially typed it in, press Escape to bring up a list of suggestions, arrow through the list, and press Enter to select the word.
  • If a system dialog box is on the screen (stopping sighted folks from seeing what is behind it), a Voiceover user can access the System dialog by bringing up a list of running applications with VO F1F1, Down Arrow to system dialogs, Enter to select, down arrow to the specific dialog, Enter again, and then deal with what the System dialog message is saying.
  • Put the Macintosh HD back on the desktop, which is a good orientation point for when a person lands back on the desktop with the VO Shift D command. Bring up Finder preferences with VO comma and in the General tab check hard disks (Escape to exit).
  • To allow the Voiceover user to stop having to hold down FN every time they want to do a Voiceover command that involves the function keys, go to System preferences > keyboard > keyboard tab, and check, “Use F1, F2, etc keys as standard function keys.” This means that to use the volume function keys etc, you’ll have to hold down Fn.
  • To stop having to hold down the Option key when Tabbing through links in Safari, go into Safari preferences with Command comma and in the Advanced tab, check “Use tab to highlight each item on a webpage,” Escape to exit.
  • When playing music, remember that F7, F8 and F9 are Previous, Play/Pause, and Next iTunes track: you can also turn the sound down on iTunes so that it doesn't go over the top of Voiceover.



The guide on this page has generously been submitted by a member of the AppleVis community. As AppleVis is a community-powered website, we make no guarantee, either express or implied, of the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this guide.


#1 thanks

David, thank you for posting this as well as all the great info you make available to the community - it is truly appreciated

#2 supporting audio demo to come

Will be working on an audio demo to accompany the points as well. Thanks for the kind words. David

#3 I am also very thankful!

Dear David, I also would like to thank you very much for such excellent guide for the beginners. I started exploring Mac OS X within a virtual machine and your comments saved me a lot of time and helped to avoid much headache. I am experienced Windows/Linux user but OS X presents a lot of thing which would be imposssible to deal with without guides like yours. Will translate it into Russian when time permits. Sergei.

#4 Great resource man

Hi. I feel like I'm repeating what people have already said, but thanks for this guide. I'm new to the site, and found it Wile i was searching Four guides such as this I've been using windows for years And started using iOS about two years ago and I love it. I Am actually getting a MacBook These tutorials and podcasts really help. I feel Like when I get my Mac I will be able to pick it up and use it fairly well after listening to some of these podcasts and reading these guides. So, thank you

#5 Minor question

Hi David,

I was reading through this great list of Mac getting started details, and was puzzled by line 5 under item 30. "Some tips and comments".  You wrote:

" Use Preview to access PDF files or to listen to an audio file without having to bring up iTunes."

Did you mean to refer to the Mac's Quick Look feature for accessing PDF files without having to open Preview, and for accessing audio files without having to open iTunes? (Quick explanation: when you're focused on a PDF file or an audio file in Finder, pressing space bar instead of opening the file and launching an application like Preview to view PDFs, or iTunes to play audio, lets you "Quick Look" the file to examine its contents.  When you Quick Look files you can "view" or "play" them. You don't have the range of options you'd have in an application, like jumping to a specific location, fast forwarding or rewinding, but it's a great way to quickly inspect the contents of documents, movies, presentations, etc. and decide what you want to do with them.  Plus, it lets you sample music files without opening them and adding them to your iTunes library.)

#6 Re: Getting started with your Mac using VoiceOver

This is very helpful. I am in the market for one of the Mac family of computers, not sure exactly which one yet. Actually I have been tossing around the idea for a couple years about trying out VoiceOver. I've heard good things about it. My Dell laptop's motherboard fried earlier this year, and I've had my Dell desktop since November of 2007 and it's starting to go a bit sour on me. So I think this is just a good time overall to get a Mac.

#7 Voiceover is Good

Hello everyone. Well, I'm posting my second comment here to let you know that I got my Mac yesterday. A sister of mine is also in the market for a Mac one of these days, so she and I went with our parents to our local Apple store. First off, the 3 employees who helped us out were amazing. One of them brought out some of the laptops for us to try out, and I ended up settling on a Mac Book Air. This was more or less what I had originally hoped for, since I listened to a 4-part review of it done by Mike Calvo. I'm happy to report that thus far things are working well for me. I realize I still have a lot of learning to do, but I am liking Voiceover and I'm going to take advantage of these great online resources as well as some on-site training in a couple of weeks.

#8 Thank you so much!

Wow! Thank you so much for posting this guide. I teach students who are visually impaired and I have seriously struggled to find resources to help me get better acquainted with the accessibility resources on Apple devices. The resources that Apple has are good, but they're limited in their scope. Your site has already given me loads more information than I've been able to pull from Apple. I just really wanted to express my appreciation for your work here because now I have a place to ask questions and get feedback from actual users.

#9 New Mac user

I am a new Mac user, so this will definitely come in handy for me to refer back too. I'm having a little trouble understanding the general concept of navigating on the Mac. It is so much different then windows.

#10 Considering a Mac

I'm considering a mac I have a iphone, so have some understanding of Voice over. However, I use a windows currently. my only issue, is the pricing. any advice on getting a good mac, with out breaking the bank? also your guides will come in handy when I do get one. thanks a lot

#11 Honestly, I would recommend

Honestly, I would recommend getting a Mac mini as it's the cheapest one out on the market. I would also recommend if you can't find one to go to an apple store and play with them for a little while. If a mac mini isn't what you want, go for the new pro, sure you're gonna spend more, but it's well worth the money. I understand they're expensive, but if you want a mac, you're gonna have to pay a premium price!

#12 Regarding pdf Support

I thought I'd come back here and post a response to the person who asked about pdf support. While QuickLook and Preview are okay, I've found that they don't allow for arrow navigation such as character by character. There is a 3rd-party app called Capti Narrator, which looks pretty good although I haven't yet used it. I contacted their support team because loading files into it seems to be somewhat of a process. A support person just followed up with me again and I immediately replied, so we'll see what happens. I think the app entry on here for Capti needs to either be updated or deleted entirely or something. The developer seems to have disappeared, and I cannot get any responses to my query. I obtained the free version, but there's also a paid version which apparently has more features. Their website is , and they also have an online version which I've not tried. But Capti seems to be a very good alternative for accessing .pdf files on the Mac.

#13 Hi,

regarding cacti narrator, the app on mac just tames you to the online version. It's not like the IOS app. I'd suggest if you're going to use cacti, use it on your iOs device, it seems to work loads better on them anyway.

#14 Great Post

Hi David,
Fortunately, I have some experience with my blue tooth keyboard on IOS, so some of the concepts in this post were familiar. I may be getting a Mac, so I will be re-reading this if that happens.