Getting Started With The Mac Using Voiceover

Voiceover is Appleís built-in screen reader that comes built into the operating system of any Mac.Using one simple keystroke, a blind or low vision user has complete speech and braille access to the Mac operating system.

How To Turn The Mac On

On a MacBook air or pro, the power button is the top right key on the top row of keys.You will hear a chime and then one can enable Voiceover.

Keyboards And Important Keys

Apple has built in laptop keyboards, Bluetooth keyboards and a wired USB keyboard option.

The wired keyboard has a numeric keypad.

Most users these days will use the Bluetooth keyboard or the keyboard built into the Mac laptop itself.

Important Mac Keys To Note:

4 keys to the left of the Space key from left to right are:

Function (FN) key: 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 key: Command key.

VO Keys Control and Option or caps lock with arrow keys

main keys you use when interacting with Voiceover-caps lock and/or control and option

Both are enabled by default.

That is personal preference.

Escape key: top row, first key from left

Function keys 1 through to 12: top row, starting second key 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 at the bottom right of the keyboard.

When held down with the Function key: up arrowPage up, down arrowPage down, left arrowHome, and right arrow End.


You can utilize the track pad to use gestures similar to those used on an iPhone or iPad.There are built-in gestures, but you can also assign gestures to commands within the VoiceOver utility.To use gestures, you must turn on the track pad commander by holding down the VO keys and then performing the clockwise rotor gesture. Here are some common gestures:

The VoiceOver Tutorial And Launching Voiceover

To turn Voiceover on push command-the key to the left of the space bar and function key f5.The first time you hit command f5, a dialogue will come up with an audio prompt.If you want to activate the Voiceover quick start tutorial, push space.If you already know how to use Voiceover, push the V key.Note this dialogue only appears only once when launching Voiceover for the first time.In the future, to launch the quick start tutorial, push control option command and f8 all together.The tutorial will launch.

This is a great quick start showing many basic Mac commands.Given the speech is very human sounding, users should have no trouble understanding the high-quality human sounding Alex voice.

Adjusting Speech

Hold down VO+Command keys all together, and at the same time, press Left or Right arrow keys to cycle between the speech synthesizer options, when you get to the item you want (still holding down VO+Command keys), use the Up or Down arrow keys to adjust that item. For example, hold down VO+Command, 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: online help (via the internet), 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), Quick Start tutorial, and the Getting Started guide.To Navigate the VoiceOver Help menu, press Down or Up arrow to get to the choice you wish to use, and press the Enter key to select. To exit the VoiceOver Help menu, just press the Escape key. For example, VO+H to access the VoiceOver Help menu, Down arrow until you hear Quick Start, and then press the Enter key to access the Quick Start tutorial.

Tip: Control Option K will launch keyboard help.A user can hit keys to hear what they do.

Mac Basics

Accessing The Desktop, Dock, and Menu Bar

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:

The Mac Menu Bar

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 key, you will move across the menu options for Finder, File etc. To pull one of these menu options down to use their options, just press Down arrow, keep using Down arrow to get to the option you want to use, and then press the Enter key. Pressing the Escape key 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 arrow keys (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 Down or Up Arrow keys to navigate the menu, and press the Enter key to choose an option. Like the main menu bar, Escape works the same way.

VO+M will always cycle you between these two menus or if you are just sitting at the desktop, you could jump straight to the Extras menu by holding down the VO keys and pressing M twice.

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 the Enter key twice to close down your Mac.

The Mac Doc

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 keys to move between the applications on the Dock, and press the Enter key to select an application.


Spotlight is a way of searching for apps, files, contacts, mail messages, or other items on your Mac. It works a lot like the search box in the Windows start menu. To open spotlight, hit command + space. You can then start typing what you are looking for. It usually only takes a few letters for your item to appear in the list. You can hit the down arrow to look through results and hit enter when you find the one you want.

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 plus Tab key to move to the next or previous item on the desktop, and then press the Command key plus O to open that item. If you press the enter key 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 thumb drivein to your Mac, it will appear on your desktop. Tab or Shift+Tab key 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 on your Mac, you would still be running two applications on your Mac; Mail, and Finder.

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

Shift plus Command plus A: will take you to the Applications folder (all applications installed on your Mac including Mail, Safari, TextEdit, etc.

Shift plus Command plus O - will take you to the Documents folder (where the documents you create are saved)

Shift plus Command plus U will take you to the Utilities folder (these are specific utility applications, and is also where the VoiceOver utility for further configuring VoiceOver is stored).

Option plus Command plus L - will take you to the Downloads folder (files downloaded by Safari from the Internet are stored here).

Shift plus Command plus 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 hard drive Volume. If you want to just close the current folder window thatís 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-an important Voiceover Change

In any volume or folder that you access on your Mac including the Applications, Document, 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 image 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 key plus 2. If at any time you want to go back to image view, press Command key plus 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.

Reading And Editing Text

Reading Text

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.

Editing Text

Editing text is a bit different on the Mac given how the cursor works.the cursor is never on a letter, itís 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 Typing Echo

Bring up the Voiceover verbosity dialogue with VO+V.Left and right arrow through the different settings One of the settings is typing echo.Echoing characters and words are the default.Up and down arrow to your other keyboard echo choices such as characters words or no echo.Push enter once you have made the desired choice.

Selecting Text

To highlight, press Shift plus Arrow keys, to speak back what has been highlighted by VoiceOver press Fn+VO+F6, and then Command+C to copy, Command+X to cut or Command+V to paste.

VoiceOver Keyboard Shortcuts for Mac OS X

VO+keystroke = Control+Option+keystroke or caps lock


Turn VoiceOver on or off: Command+F5

Stop speech: Ctrl

Repeat the last spoken phrase: VO+Z


VoiceOver Quick Start tutorial: VO+Command+F8

Open the VoiceOver Help menu: VO+H

VoiceOver Commands Help menu: VO+HH

Start keyboard help: VO+K (Esc to exit keyboard help)


Typing Echo (verbosity): VO+V

Open VoiceOver Utility: VO+F8

Cycle through speech attributes: VO+Command+LeftArrow (or Right Arrow)

Change current speech attribute: VO+Command+UpArrow (or DownArrow)

Close a menu or rotor, stop an action, or exit a mode: Escape

Lock and unlock the VO (Control and Option) keys: VO+;

Orientation Commands

Hear the application summary: VO+F1

Hear the window summary VO+F2

Describe the item in the VoiceOver cursor: VO+F3

Describe the item that has the keyboard focus: VO+F4

Describe the selected item: VO+F6

Navigation Commands

Move VO cursor left, right, up or down: VO+Arrow keys

Move to start of list or document: VO+Shift+Home

Move to end of list or document: VO+Shift+End

Move to top/start of window, Dock, etc:VO+Command+Home

Move to bottom/end of window, Dock, etc:VO+Command+End

Move to the menu bar: VO+M (Control-F2) (NB: VO+Shift+M opens context menu)

Move to the Dock: VO+D(or Control-F3)

Move to the desktop: VO+Shift+D

Open the Item Chooser (to go to item on the screen or in a window): VO+I

Jump to a linked item (for example, from a Mail message in the Inbox to its message text):VO+J

Hot Spots

Set or remove a hot spot: VO+Shift+[number key]

Open the Hot Spot Chooser (to browse and jump to hot spots): VO+[number key]+[number key] (i.e. VO & same number key twice)

Jump to a hot spot: VO+[number key]

Hear a description of a hot spot: VO+Command+[number key]


Toggle QuickNav on/off:LeftArrow+RightArrow

Move VoiceOver cursor: Cursor keys (equals VO+Arrow keys)

Perform action: Up+Down (equals VO+Spacebar)

Interact with item: Right/Down (equals VO+Shift+DownArrow)

Stop interacting with item: Left/Down (equals VO+Shift+UpArrow)

VoiceOver Cursor Visual Commands

Magnify item in VoiceOver cursor: VO+Shift+[

Shrink item in cursor: VO+Shift+]

Toggle VoiceOver focus rectangle (& other visuals): VO+F11

Displays Caption panel (of where VO cursor is): VO+Command+F10


Find text: VO+F

Find next (after using VO+F): VO+G

Find previous: VO+Shift+G

Find the next misspelled word: VO+Command+E

Reading commands (TextEdit, Safari, etc)

Before you can use most of these commands, you must interact with text in a text area.

Read from VoiceOver cursor to end: VO+A

Read from beginning to cursor: VO+B

Speak text attributes: VO+T

Speaks line number, word and character in VoiceOver cursor:VO+F3

Read character in VoiceOver cursor: VO+C

Read next character: VO+Shift+Right Arrow

Read previous character: VO+Shift+Left Arrow

Read word in VoiceOver cursor: VO+W

Spell word: VO+WW

Spell word phonetically: VO+WWW

Read next word: VO+Right Arrow

Read previous word: VO+Left Arrow

Read line in VoiceOver cursor: VO+L

Read next line: VO+Down Arrow

Read previous line: VO+Up Arrow

Read sentence in VoiceOver cursor: VO+S

Read next sentence: VO+Command+Page Down

Read previous sentence: VO+Command+Page Up

Read paragraph in VoiceOver cursor: VO+P

Read next paragraph: VO+Shift+Page Down

Read previous paragraph: VO+Shift+Page Up


Read a row in a table: VO+R

Read a column in a table: VO+C+C

Read the column header in a table: VO+C

Interaction commands

Interact with an item: VO+Shift+DownArrow

Stop interacting with an item: VO+Shift+Up Arrow

Perform the default action for the item in the VoiceOver cursor (e.g. open active item): VO+Spacebar

Open application, documents or download folders on Dock: VO+Spacebar, down arrow, Enter

Web commands (Safari)

Move to next heading: VO+Command+H

Move to next heading of the same level: VO+Command+M

Move to next plain text: VO+Command+P

Move to next link: VO+Command+L

Move to next visited link: VO+Command+V

Move to next control: VO+Command+J

Move to next table: VO+Command+T

Move to the next column: VO+Command+Y

Move to the next frame: VO+Command+F

Move to the next auto web spot: VO+Command+N

To move to a previous item, use Shift with above commands.

e.g. VO+Command+Shift+H to move to previous heading

Navigation - Web Spots

Set a web spot: VO+Command+Shift+}

Remove a web spot: VO+Command+Shift+{

Set the sweet spot: VO+Command+Shift+}+}

Move to the next web spot: VO+Command+]

Move to the previous web spot: VO+Command+[Navigation - General

Navigation - Web Item Rotor

Open the Web Item rotor: VO+U

Navigate lists: Left & right arrow keys

Navigate items in selected list: Up & down arrow keys

In Headers List, list only headings of a particular level Type level number

Read a link address (URL): VO+Shift+U

Read webpage statistics: VO+Shift+I


Parts of the above information were used curdecy of Applevis.

Mac Getting Started


VoiceOver Keyboard Shortcuts for Mac OS X | AppleVis


The Mac's Mail app Explained | AppleVis

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