What is VoiceOver?

VoiceOver is a screen reader, and so, it describes the contents of the screen out loud. It is a built-in feature of Apple’s Mac, iPhone, iPad, AppleTV and Apple Watch. VoiceOver was designed as an accessibility feature for users who are visually impaired and for users who have dyslexia.

VoiceOver on Mac

How to Turn On VoiceOver on Mac

To turn on VoiceOver on a Mac, you can use the keyboard shortcut Command-F5.

How to Interact with VoiceOver

  • Braille display: VoiceOver will detect if a braille display is connected and then provide the (screen read) information to the display.
  • Multi-touch trackpad: You can use VoiceOver gestures to interact with your Mac.
  • Keyboard: There are special keyboard commands that allow you to interact with the items on your screen. These commands are accessed by holding down the Control and Option keys plus one or two other keys for the specific command.

The VoiceOver Tutorial

The first time you start VoiceOver on your Mac, there is a tutorial you can follow to help you get familiar with some VoiceOver basics. To start the tutorial anytime, you can use the keyboard command: Control-Option-Command-F8. Apple also has a written tutorial on the basics of VoiceOver you can read for more info.

How the VoiceOver Cursor Works

If you are looking at the screen, the VoiceOver cursor is a dark rectangle that highlights text or areas of the screen. To move the cursor around the screen using your keyboard, you may use the Tab or arrow keys.

You may also turn off cursor tracking so that your keyboard focus can be in a different place than your VoiceOver cursor.

Customizing VoiceOver

There are many ways to customize the behavior of VoiceOver. You can change the gestures and the keyboard commands. You can set up preferences for the initial position of the VoiceOver cursor when you open an app and whether or not you want to use cursor tracking. To customize VoiceOver, you can use VoiceOver Utility.

To open VoiceOver Utility:

  • Go to Apple menu > System Preferences. Double-click on Accessibility, then select VoiceOver from the left side pane. Click on Open VoiceOver Utility.

VoiceOver on iOS

VoiceOver on your iPhone allows you to interact with your phone even if you can’t see the screen. You will get audio descriptions for the things that appear on your screen, and also for important things like your iPhone’s battery level and VoiceOver can tell you who’s calling.

When you touch the screen, VoiceOver will tell you what your finger is on. To do anything with the items on the screen, you will use special VoiceOver gestures for iOS.

Turn on VoiceOver on iPhone

To turn on VoiceOver on your iPhone, you can do one of the following:

  • Use Siri. Say “Hey Siri, turn on VoiceOver”. To turn off, just say “Hey Siri, turn off VoiceOver”.
  • Go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver and toggle the switch to the ON position.

You can practice your VoiceOver gestures on your iPhone. When you use VoiceOver practice, you won’t mess-up your phone or its settings. To get to VoiceOver practice:

  • Go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver. First turn on VoiceOver, then tap VoiceOver Practice and double-tap to start the practice session.

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Dr. Stacey Butler is a tech writer at macReports covering news, how-tos, and user guides. She is a longtime Mac and iPhone user and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Here is her LinkedIn profile.

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