Debunking Common Myths about VoiceOver on the Mac

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team


Macs have been fully accessible since 2005, but those who have never used one may still believe the myths about VoiceOver that have been around almost as long as VoiceOver itself. Even long-time users may be doing extra work, not even realizing that there are shortcuts or steps they can skip. I would like to take this opportunity to dispel these long-standing myths, and maybe make you more comfortable with the idea of switching to, or at least trying out, a Mac.


The Myth

VoiceOver is different from Windows screen readers in that it operates on a strictly hierarchical structure of the screen. In English, that means that it groups things together, and to access those things, you have to tell it to go into that group. Using VoiceOver is nothing but constantly issuing extra keystrokes to try and find things; meanwhile, in Windows World, people are just tabbing along happily, not caring about what's grouped with what. Using a Mac, then, is way less efficient because of this stupid idea that to get to a button, or text field, or whatever, you have to interact. Then you have to stop interacting, move further along, and interact somewhere else to find the next thing you want. Seriously, how do these crazy Mac users get anything done?

In Reality…

Yes, interaction is central to VoiceOver, but that is not a bad thing. In fact, in many ways, it makes user interfaces make a lot more sense, and is often a way to more quickly navigate than just tabbing to everything in a window.

The biggest part of this myth seems to be that tabbing does not work. In actuality, tab works exactly the same on the Mac as it does in Windows, and I tab all the time. There is a setting that is usually enabled by default, that lets the tab key operate normally; if your tab key does not work, you can just enable that setting, and that's it. You can even press control-f7 to toggle between tab moving to text fields only, or all items.

Furthermore, you rarely need to interact with tables to move through them. The VoiceOver Utility, for instance, has a table of categories from which to choose, but you don't need to interact with that table. Just move to it and press up or down arrow to move from item to item. Most tables work this way, and will read the entire row as you arrow along. If you want to examine individual cells, that's when you interact, otherwise you generally don't need to bother. Some tables do require interaction, yes, but they tend to be in third-party apps (such as Skype).

Interaction is also not required in Finder, which is where many people get hung up. You can up and down arrow in Finder just like you can in Windows, so long as you select either List (command-2) or Column (command-3) view first. If you want to find out how a filename or other bit of information is spelled, you can interact with it and move character by character, or hit VO-w twice.

Similarly, text fields do not require interaction. Reading a document in Text Edit, typing something in a form in Safari, writing an email, entering a password… None of that will fail if you don't interact with the text field first. It makes life easier sometimes, particularly for editing your text, but it is not a necessity. Besides, as I said, tab can auto-interact, so even if you like to interact with everything, just tab to it and save yourself the extra keystroke.

Interacting really shines when the interface has distinct areas. Toolbars are good examples of this. In Windows, if there is a toolbar, you must tab through the entire thing to get past it. By contrast, you can simply vo-arrow past a toolbar on a Mac to avoid it. Apps like iTunes, Xcode, Garageband, and others use this model a lot, and it makes them very efficient to get around.

Interaction is also central to the touch exploration of your screen, for those with trackpads. Like iOS, Voiceover on the Mac lets you move a finger around the screen and hear what you are touching. The area you are exploring is set by interacting. Open Finder, for instance, and you can feel where the toolbar, sidebar, file list, and other things are. Interact with, say, the sidebar, and what you are feeling is just the sidebar. This lets you get an idea of where things are and how the screen is set up, but would not work nearly as well without the concept of interaction to let you decide what you want to explore.

The bottom line: interaction does exist, and it can be extremely helpful in examining a window or getting details. However, it is not used nearly as often as most people think, and it eventually becomes just another tool to use when necessary.

VoiceOver Keys

The Myth

When you use a Mac, you have to press the VoiceOver keys (control and option) all the time. Seriously, as soon as you boot up your Mac, you're holding those keys down, because VoiceOver can't do anything without them. Some people compare them to the Jaws or NVDA key in Windows, but it's more like they're the keys that let VoiceOver do anything. It's ridiculous - you can't even arrow through menus without holding them down!

In Reality…

The VoiceOver keys are required to move the VoiceOver cursor and issue other VoiceOver-specific commands. You do not, however, need to hold them down all the time. For instance, press VO-m to go to the menu bar; you can left, right, up, and down arrow exactly how you would in Windows, no VO keys necessary. Don't like VO-m? No problem, hit control-f2 instead.

As stated above, you also don't need the VO keys when moving up or down through a table. You can up/down arrow, with nothing else held down, in Mail, Finder, drop down menus, selection lists, text fields, and so forth. You can also use Quick Nav to eliminate the need to hold down the VO keys while examining a webpage or window, the two places they are most used. There is even a keystroke to virtually lock the VO keys down if you need it, but I have not used that command once since I switched to OS X in 2012, that is how seldom the VO keys are required to be used for an extended period.

Additionally, those with trackpads have access to gestures in the form of the Trackpad Commander. This gives you not only the touch exploration described above, but many of the swiping and tapping gestures already familiar to anyone who uses Voiceover on iOS. Instead of pressing control-option-right, you can simply do a one-finger swipe to the right; instead of control-option-shift-down to interact, do a two-finger swipe right. VoiceOver on the Mac expands the possibilities, with commands for moving to menus, listing open applications or windows, and more. Plus, you can assign your own commands to any gesture you like, so long as a modifier is pressed. You might, for instance, tell Voiceover to speak the time when you hold down the command key and do a one-finger swipe up. With three modifiers to pick from and around sixty gestures for each modifier, you will run out of commands before you run out of gestures.

text navigation

The Myth

In Windows, you have a ton of keystrokes to efficiently navigate text. Beginning or end of line, move by word, speak a character phonetically… All that is easy to do. The Mac doesn't have anything like that, and it's a lot harder to deal with text on a mac. Windows is just more efficient in this area. Oh yeah, and the cursor doesn't work right either. VoiceOver speaks the text you're going past, so you hear things spoken twice if you reverse direction, and it just doesn't make sense.

In Reality…

The mac includes as many navigational keystrokes as Windows, they are just different. The arrow keys by themselves operate just as they would in Windows. Command-left or command-right move to the start or end of a line, and command-up or command-down jump to the start or end of the document. Option-left and option-right move by word, option-up and option-down by paragraph. Just like in Windows, add shift to any of these commands to select text as you move past it.

The Mac goes a step further in two ways. First, it supports several commands that Windows simply does not have. For example, place your cursor between two letters and hit control-t, and those two characters are transposed. I use this a lot if I am typing too quickly and reverse, say the "th" in the word "the", which I do in that and other words more often than I like to admit. There are plenty of other keystrokes similar to this one, and they work just about anywhere you can type text. Two of my favorites are the deletion commands: option-delete erases the word to the left of the cursor, and command-delete erases the line to the left of the cursor. Oh, and the Mac even lets you input special characters, like bullets or ellipses, right from the keyboard: press option with the proper key and the symbol is inserted.

The other advantage to the Mac's text processing is spellcheck and auto-correct. Windows has these, of course, but the mac offers them system-wide. The same spellcheck commands, and the same dictionary to which you add words you want to be ignored, are used in nearly every program. If you tell the Mac to learn the spelling of a word in Text Edit, then enter that word in Safari, it is not flagged as misspelled.

Text expansion is also built into the Mac, letting you type a phrase that will expand into a full set of words. I have one defined for my email address, for instance; I type "xeml", and the mac offers to insert my full email address. Best of all, these sync over iCloud, so I can not only use them on any Mac I log into, but on all my iOS devices, too.

As to the cursor, it is true that VoiceOver speaks what it is passing. What people tend to forget is that this is actually how the cursor works for the sighted world, and once you get used to it, it makes a whole lot more sense than the Windows way. As you arrow right, say character by character, VoiceOver speaks the characters. Since you are moving right, you know that each character you hear is to the left of the cursor; if you press delete, the character you just heard will be erased. If you move back to the left, you know that what you hear is to the right of the cursor. This way, you are always aware of where you are in relation to your text. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it really is more efficient once you master it. Plus, if you simply can't get it, you can change VoiceOver to work the way Windows screen readers announce text.

Office productivity

The Myth

That's all good and well, but I need to do serious word processing. Say what you will, but we all know that nothing beats Microsoft Office with a modern screen reader, like NVDA. I mean come on, your Mac word processor can't even report font changes! There's no way a mac can go against Windows in terms of productivity and win.

In Reality…

Actually, the Mac can hold its own quite well. Apart from accessibility, it is cheaper; the Mac's productivity suite, made up of Pages for word processing, Keynote for powerpoint, and Numbers for spreadsheets, is free on all Macs bought from September of 2013 onward. Even if you don't have a free copy, each app is just $20. Altogether, that's less than you'd pay for MS office, even with a student discount (trust me, I've made the purchase). Additionally, the same apps exist for, and are quite accessible on, iOS, where they can sync documents across all your devices, just as you'd expect. Plus, if you prefer and/or absolutely need MS Office, the 2015 version for the Mac is mostly accessible. Thus, whether you prefer Microsoft's or Apple's productivity solution, you have the choice and VoiceOver will play nicely with whichever one you decide to use.

NOTE: at the time of this writing, many users are reporting a bug in MS Office on Mac where VoiceOver fails to read past the first page of a document. This is a serious bug, but given all the work Microsoft has already put into Office for Mac in terms of accessibility, it will likely be addressed relatively soon. I will update this post when and if the problem is fixed.

Now, the accessibility of formatting information. First, VoiceOver can report the font of text (hit VO-t). Second, use the Verbosity Options (VO-v) to change the "speak text attributes" to "speak", and you are told when any formatting of text changes as you read it. Third, and most importantly, Apple's iWork suite (Keynote, Pages, and Numbers) is fully accessible and, in some ways, much easier to use than MS office. No ribbons to worry about, no needing to upgrade to the latest Jaws version just to get office support back, and the layout is much easier to deal with. Again though, if you want to use Office, you now have that option as well.

This article is not about how to use iWork or Office, so I will not give exact instructions on anything. However, consider this: I spent a few hours with Office and Jaws on Windows last fall, figuring things out and trying to get things to work right. After twenty minutes with Pages, I was doing more than I had ever managed to figure out in those hours with Word.


The Myth

If you scan a lot of print material, you need Windows. Nothing compares to Openbook, no matter what anyone says.

In Reality…

There are several good apps for scanning and doing OCR on the Mac. Abbyy Fine Reader and Prizmo are the two most popular, with DocuScan Plus sometimes suggested as well. Again, this article is not an instruction manual, but suffice it to say that you can do all the scanning you want on your Mac.

web browsing

The Myth

Using VoiceOver to browse the internet is a slow, painful process. You have to go into some special mode just to be able to jump by headings or links, there's no feature to list all the links or other parts of a page, you can't arrow through a page like on Windows, and it's just not as efficient at all.

In Reality…

The idea that arrowing through a webpage is not supported on the Mac has actually been true for a long time. As of OS X Yosemite, though, Apple has finally introduced this long-awaited feature. You can use arrow keys, by themselves or with modifiers, to move around a webpage just like you would a document or email. Links and other HTML elements are read in-line, meaning that if a line has two links in it, VoiceOver will read the non-link and link text all at once. The only drawback to this method is that HTML elements are not announced, only text, at least as of the time of this writing. For example: headings, lists, and other non-actionable items are read as text, but their status as headings/lists/etc is not spoken.

Windows screen readers have commands to jump by heading, link, checkbox, table, and so forth. VoiceOver has them too, in two different sets. One set is always available and is hard-coded: vo-cmd-h moves by heading, vo-cmd-t by table, and more. The other, single-key navigation mode, is only available when Quick Nav is on. The nice thing about this is that you can customize which keys do what, something not all Windows screen readers allow.

The other great thing about Quick Nav is that it turns your arrow keys into a rotor, something most users of VoiceOver on iOS will already know all about. Not only can you press letters on the keyboard to move around, you can rotor to different items, then use up and down arrows to jump by the selected item. To access a list of items similar to this, but all in one window, simply hit vo-u. you can then left/right arrow (again, no VO keys required) between the different element types, and up/down arrow to the one you want, or start typing its name. Press enter when you are on the item you were looking for and you are taken right to it. If you have a trackpad, your life is even easier: the same rotor gestures you know and love on iOS work on the Mac, Quick Nav or not.

There is no special typing mode, like the forms or browse mode in most Windows screen readers, to worry about. If you are on an edit field, simply start typing (again, no need to interact). If you are on a page like Youtube that supports keyboard controls, just press them. As long as Quick Nav is disabled, this will all work just as it would if VoiceOver were off. Even if Quick Nav is on, tabbing to a form field, as opposed to arrowing to it or finding it with a hotkey, will cause typing to work just as you expect, by automatically disabling Quick Nav.

Bottom Line

There is a great deal to love about the Mac. Over the years, thanks to features that didn't used to be present but were added later, or all the other ways rumors get started, a lot of misinformation has sprung up around Voiceover. I hope this article has helped to set the record straight.

As always, you can find me on Twitter, @VOTips, or leave a comment right here on this page. Tell me what myths I missed, or what you are still wondering about regarding VoiceOver on the Mac.

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Brilliant blog.

Just wanted to post and say that I really enjoyed reading this blog post. Have you considered doing a post each week on an app by app basis such as pages which you mentioned in this post?

Excellent article

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Just wanted to echo the above comment. Great article. I've been using Mac for a few years now and on the whole I don't regret it at all.


Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Thanks for the feedback. I don't have plans to do a weekly series, but Pages and Finder are both on my list and should be posted relatively soon. I know a lot of people are curious about Pages, so I do plan to cover that.


Very nice article. Another thing I've noticed people acuzing OS X of is that applications go busy a lot, and that you can't do anything if that happens. And, of course, that windows never, never ever ever ever does this. This is simply not true. For sighted people, visually, the mouse cursor changes to indicate that an application, or the system, is busy/WIndows is not responding. On the mac, if this happens, you can just command-tab away, and let the app do its thing. VO willl even tell you when it's "ready", which means you can do things with it. On windows, more often than not a not responding application will take your screen reader with it. Leaving its window will sometimes, but usually not fix it. What's more frustrating is if that application crashes and comes up with the standard windows error report, your screen reader will start to speak only after you close that dialog which is kind of hard if you've alt tabbed a couple times and have no idea where it is. Later versions of NVDA on Windows 8 do improve this a bit, but often this still happens

in contrast to not responding

In contrast with a Mac the worst case situation for me and which I would consider a crash as it were. Are those rare times where Voiceover will suddenly stop talking and you lose speech.. Fear not though because often the case will be that Voiceover will I guess for lack of a name for the feature will perform a reset upon itself and say "Voiceover is on" or some such similar thrase. So this essentially, forces Voiceover to restart and before you know it, you've recovered speech and that's without the user having to do anything there self. Quite amazing really.

VOiceOver with microsoft office

I've seen the voiceover crashing and restarting deal you referred to in the previous comment since Tiger. It's always been there, and is great for when you do loose speech occasionally

I like this

Club AppleVis Member

I believe a lot of people get misconceptions about the Mac world because they're used to the way things are in Windows and expect the Mac to work in a similar fashion. You really need to treat the Mac as entirely separate from the Windows world and not try to do things the same way in order to really appreciate it. That is my opinion anyway. What I said here doesn't just apply to those of us with low vision or blindness. It applies equally to those who are fully sighted. On several occasions, for example, I have heard someone try out a Mac and complain, "Why in the blankety-blank is the stupid menu bar at the top of the whole screen? How idiotic is that!" I have grown up with Macs, since my early years when I had better vision, and never felt comfortable in the Windows world. I have nothing against Windows; I am just used to Macs. I was always worried that, as my vision gradually got worse, I would have to switch platforms in order to continue using computers since the accessibility of Macs wasn't very good. Thankfully, I didn't need to start using a screen reader until about a year ago, and by then VoiceOver had matured very nicely. I'm glad I can stay with my familiar Mac universe.

Great Job!

I, too, would like to thank you for posting this well-written article. Although I'm still rather new to the Mac, I have done a lot of exploring on my own and trial-and-error. I have to say I'm super impressed with VoiceOver. It might not be perfect--what or who is--but it's most definitely a great screen reader. I'm going to tell my sister and her life-skills tutor about this article, and suggest that they go over it. This sister is also new to the Mac and uses VoiceOver. I can't tell you how grateful I am for sites like Apple Vis. I think you guys do an awesome job, and if it weren't for these online training resources we newbies would be lost. My local Apple store has also been a great resource, but given the nature of the situation their training is probably not the best. Don't even get me started on state services!

There is one way VoiceOver is

There is one way VoiceOver is way way way way way behind windows screen readers. First of all, please do not judge me and do not get confused ... I am a most part of times a Mac OS user and go to windows only for professional / productivity work or for when I just need a flat, fast and stable virtual buffer or flat representation of complex pages to navigate. This is however the minority of times at home and most of myy daily tasks are being performed in IOS and MAC OS also. However, what makes voiceover stay behind windows screen readers is scriptability. Sure sure we have Apple Scripts and such but we do not have a powerfull API to support screen readers common tasks, not that I am aware off at least, meaning I probably can not myute speech and make vo cursor uninteract, uninteract, find a group, interact, find the third component and focus me right there or make voiceover act accordingly with given events such as new text being added to buffers in messenger stuff ... If we had, I assume that a good part of common tasks hard to acomplish using VO, mainly in apps such as xcode and garageband would already have been scripted, making VO operation a snap to do. Ok I assume Apple cant take care of everything ... what they should do is let us the comunity take care of some of this stuff, just the way FS first did with JAWS, what is responsible to make it still the most powerfull screen reader available. Enough to say, window-eyes, nvda and others are following its path. When voiceover finds that way, there wont be limits about what we could do with it. Marlon

Helpful article. There were

Club AppleVis Member

Helpful article. There were tips mentioned I didn't know, such as deleting entire lines/words using Cmd/Option. I've been using a Macbook for about a year now and would never go back to Windows. It's great to finally be able to pay exactly what others pay and be able to self-install OS upgrades and set up my brand new computer by myself.

Helpful Article, Mostly Agree

Firstly, I'd like to say that this is an awesome article. I've been using a Mac for almost four years, and I found some tips in here I didn't know. So thank you. However, I have to disagree with you about web-browsing on the Mac. I find it fast, and intuitive. The fact that you can't just go down-arrow through a whole webpage doesn't bother me in the slightest. I use down-arrow to go through headings, and the text is on the right. Or, I use option-control-F to search, if I know what i'm looking for. Since I've switched to the Mac, I've never once wished I had Windows. I feel a lot more comfortable on my Mac than I ever did on Windows, and i love the fact that I can install updates, or a new version of the operating system completely on my own. Thanks again for all the tips, as well as helping to dispel some of these myths!

selecting text on the web, another myth

Club AppleVis Member

Hi all. Another myth I want to attack is that you can't select text on the web. Yes, you can. It may not be the best, but simply press shift and arrow once, then release shift. Then arrow around as if you're in a document to the beginning of the place where you wanna select, and, well, select it with shift and the arrow keys. :)

VO and Mac use

I wish to thank you also for the wonderful debugging and de-mything VO and Macs write up. I am still a Windows and Jaws user with aspirations of crossing over to the dark side one day. However, am daunted by the vast differences between the two systems and the use of the VO versus Jaws. The unknown is always scarey and for those of us totally blind, this type of foray into the totally unknown together with super steep learning curve, is what has held me back from making the switch. Keep waiting for my present computer to give up the ghost before leaping into the Mac world and yet keep praying that it lasts another long time so I don't have to face the difficult decision: Windows or Mac? However, in a way I have already begun to make the decision by not paying for the continually necessary updates of Jaws and am still using Windows XP Pro.

More Than One Way to Do Things

Hi everyone. One other myth that I've heard about VoiceOver is that there's only one way of accomplishing certain tasks. I think this was briefly covered already. This is not true, as I have been finding out more and more. For example, you don't have to interact with Mail to open it. You can also just hit Command O. This also applies for opening individual messages. I recently discovered yet another way of dealing with email messages, but I don't recall off the top of my head what it is. I'll have to revisit the AppleVis podcast in which I heard it. My point though is, indeed interacting is one way of accomplishing some tasks in VoiceOver but it is not the only way of doing so.

Very Useful

Thanks for this post. It was very helpful. I am somewhat new to the mac so any information about how to complete tasks efficiently and quickly will be helpful. I will be glad to see an article or podcast on Pages and Finder. I have Pages but I'm not sure how to do a lot of things with it like edit text and double space documents. Also, is possible to disable the popup about not all features of .docx files being supported because I know this information but seeing the box every time I open a .docx file is rather annoying. Finder will be a great read as well, I somewhat know how to navigate it but I mainly stick with the desktop.

OMG! Thank you so much for

Club AppleVis Member

OMG! Thank you so much for that! Makes text selection online a snap now. I'd like to note that you need to have Quick Nav turned off when doing the selecting. It's so easy. Works exactly like selecting in a word processor, so it's very intuitive. I also found Web browsing very intuitive on a Mac. It's a simple enough matter to use the elements rotor and just Up/Down arrow or use Quick Nav keys. And to read the entire site, just keep hitting Right arrow with Quick Nav on. A breeze.

Honestly, Windows and Mac

Club AppleVis Member

Honestly, Windows and Mac isn't that different. Sure, the keystrokes are different and the positions of buttons are reversed. Also, the way the cursor works, which is actually normal, is certainly confusing at first coming from the screen reader world where every letter you hear is always to the right of it. But these things are easily surmountable and pretty soon, you expect your Back button on the top left, the Done button on the right, and Cancel/Okay in that order instead of the reverse. You create folders, auto-save files, have the ability to duplicate items or Quick View without having to open a file (really handy for things like music), and much more that I don't remember Windows offering. And of course, there's the virus issue. I've never gotten a computer virus, even on Windows, but with a Mac and iOS, it's not as big a concern. What you can do is start off using iOS. That's how I made the switch. When I got used to the touch screen interface and iOS commands, I hated having to switch gears when working on my Windows laptop. I got a Mac and now, everything's consistent. It's really not as hard as you think, IMO.

I like VO-J with e-mail. You

Club AppleVis Member

I like VO-J with e-mail. You select a message from the list and then hit that keystroke and bam, you go straight to the text without having to open it in another window. I believe the text even reads automatically, but if you want to review it, you just turn Quick Nav off and arrow around as if in a word processor.

Can VO handle Track changes?

I have heard VO can't handle track changes, which is a large problem for me if true. I'm on an iPhone, and love it, but stay away from Mac computers mostly because every visually impaired person I talk to in my industry - law - avoids them, and I have never looked into it that much. Thanks.

Some considerations While I

Some considerations While I agree that mac has a great accessibility, what most part of folks here seen to forget is that Microsoft has the most accessible, in terms of featuring resources, operating system ever made. Starting with windows api functions, going to MSAA and UIA plus offering the possibility iof a off-screen model gives a great power to screen readers ... wether they will implement things the way they should or not is another different question. Anyone could give me a powerfull, complete documentation of accessibility frameworks in mac (yep I know cocoa does have accessible roles and such but this is not like MSAA, which basically offers us a interface to query accessibility of components from outside of a given process). I like VO because even having less accessibility features on the OS they have achieved like 85 % of the power a windows screen reader can have, and they have implemented it in a way that is many times better than what windows screen readers did. I however miss the scriptability and the power that the windows OS offer to screen readers. This is also the case with what apple scripts can do when manipulating windows components ... either this or the information on what to do to achieve the very samething on mac is hidden deeply some obscure where in the internet. So I did the switch, I do recomend mac but I didn't stop using windows and there are some tasks I prefer doing on windows such as when you have to use inaccessible / unusable apps .. in mac you sit and cry and in windows you go try scripting it to enhance your productivity. Marlon

Thanks Devin Prater

I just wanted to say thanks to Devin Prater. selecting text on web pages was the only thing i didn't like about mac. I'm a college student so i'm selecting things on web pages all of the time. I would do v o command and then paste the entire phrase into a text doc and edit it down into what i needed. Your shift arrow thing has changed my life. Well maybe not but its made me love osX even more.

Returning to same position when switching between applications

Hello, I am new to the mack world and have found these articles to be quite helpful. I am having a slight issue. If I am on a web page then decide to switch to another open application, such as text editor, etc, once returning to the web page the voice over does not return to the position where I have left off.Can you shed some light?

It Should

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In my experience, VoiceOver usually does return to where I was on a webpage. Not the exact word in something like an article, but at lest to the same chunk of text I was reading. You might find my article on Safari to be of some use, if you haven't already read it. As to other apps, such as text Edit, focus always returns to where you were. It might help to be sure you interact with your text before switching away, but I have never found that to be necessary. I assume you are running Mavericks?

other myths to be sure

that's really a great article, I'm still a windows user, but has an iphone 5
I'm thinking to switch to a mac but I'm hisetant to do so
but this great article has eliminated most of the things I'm worried about
but there are 2 things that are still myths and I, personally, want to know about them
the first: Voiceover has a slight delay when you press any button, this is different from windows screen readers by which you just hit the button and there is no slight change

the second: mac doesn't have a file manager like iphone/ipad in contrast with windows which has my computer by which you could navigate your files/folders

so those myths are too important to be clarified

Re: Other Myths

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

  1. Yes, most Macs have a very slight delay. After you use VoiceOver for a week, though, you rarely notice it anymore. It's more of a very minor annoyance you sometimes notice than any kind of problem.

  2. False. The Mac has Finder, which is a powerful file/folder/drive manager. You might want to read AppleVis' article on getting started with the Finder to learn more about it and how it works.


yes Mehgcap, that's what I thought
there is still another thing which is pdf files,
I've posted many questions here and received different answers
some say that Voiceover whether in preview or adobe has problems in accessibility
others say that It doesn't read tagged pdfs but read the text itself well
and I also face a problem of crashing or slight slow down when I search within large pdf file, does that happen in preview or any other app?
and is preview enough to read pdfs? or Adobe or any other app is needed

Great information

I am a Jaws and PC user who also owns and loves her Iphone. For the past couple of years I have been considering moving to the Mac but have been very concerned about the vast differences between the two systems. Although I still imagine I will be facing a steep learning curve, your article has given me much food for thought and has also eased my mind tremendously. Thank you for the work you put into this article. I very much appreciate you highlighting the common aspects which exist between the two systems. that is a relief for I have been using Jaws so long that I could run whatever function necessary in my sleep! It is daunting to think how long it might take me to get to that same level of proficiency with the Mac. Here's hoping it will happen! most definitely, my next computer will be a Mac.

Glad you found it helpful

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

I'm glad you found the article useful. The thing with Jaws is that it's a very, very complex application. You don't realize it as more and more gets added, and you learn it over time, but there's a lot to it. VoiceOver isn't as complex; no insert-space to enter a whole second command set, no huge dialogs of settings, no virtual buffers. Yes, many of these can be useful, but most are unnecessary on the Mac because of how it works. For instance, you don't need two or three cursors, because VoiceOver sees everything on the screen. My point is that you might find VoiceOver easier to get used to, because it isn't as complicated as Jaws.

Although I would prefer two

Although I would prefer two layered command rater than having to type 60 keys at the same time to make one command.
It would also help us when we need to add our own keystrokes if VO did let some room of not used keys combinations.
What Apple does not do and gets me a little bit sad is: While FS gives you options so you can go and set single keystroke for a layered command if you wish, VO is in some terms less customisable.
Again this is not a criticism but it is ratther an analysis.

In JAWS, if you have some not accessible or hardly useable application, you have a hope if yyou know how to script or happen to be able to ask someone to do it. In VO, there's nothing yiou can do about it other than beg devs for their help.

I understand that Apple needs to be in control about everything, but in the screen readers arena this is not reazonable because there are so many different situations and needs that the comunity should be given the oportunity of make things work for them independently of Apple ..... they cant do everything nor they can even know everything needing to be done.
Conmsidere XCode 6 and the, at least for me, total chaos trying to makke connections. Give me scripting, APIs and in days it would be fixed.

So at least for me using voiceover is riskier if you really need to use some third part apps because if they are not ok you won't be able to do nothing.


Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Saying that you need to press sixty keys is quite the exaggeration. The largest number of keys I need to press at once is five, for fn-ctrl-option-shift-left/right. It would be four if I had a keyboard with home/end keys, and fn-arrows is something you'll find on many laptops. I can reduce it again by using the caps lock key in place of my VoiceOver keys. Or, I could use a commander.

You said that you can't assign keystrokes, which is simply not true. No, you can't change the basic ones every VoiceOver user will use (vo-arrows, vo-cmd-h/t/l/etc, vo-a/s/p/c/w/l, and so on). You can, however, assign any VO command, Automator workflow, AppleScript, or application to a commander. Want to hear the time with option-t? Easy. Next heading with ctrl-flick down? No problem. Change single key navigation assignments? Sure.

As to scripting, AppleScript and its ability to perform automated tasks on an app's interface should do this. You can even control VoiceOver to a decent degree with AppleScript, if you want to. Plus, I've found applications on Windows that could do with heavy scripting; I've yet to find one on the Mac that I can't use at all and that would be fixed with a script. In other words, it seems that, while you can't script to the same degree you can with Windows screen readers, you also don't need to.

See comments below:

See comments below:

Saying that you need to press sixty keys is quite the exaggeration. The largest number of keys I need to press at once is five, for fn-ctrl-option-shift-left/right. It would be four if I had a keyboard with home/end keys, and fn-arrows is something you'll find on many laptops. I can reduce it again by using the caps lock key in place of my VoiceOver keys. Or, I could use a commander.

Agreed, agreed. It should be clear for everyone reading that the 60 keys is something figurative, to point out the fact that most part of VO commands will generally include more keys than the equivalents on other platforms.
You folks seen to take things in general more strictly then they should be. If I would consider recomending a newbie to the Mac world, I would warn them that they should be prepared to use more keys than what they're used to in other platforms. This is neither bad nor good, only a fact.
Changing VO keys to caps is something only advanced users will be able to do, with the help of external software. It can be done, but it was not designed this way and you for sure will not find how to do it iin VO oficial documentation. Again does it mean that VO is bad? Clearly not ... but one has to know that this is the rule when it comes to keystrokes.

You said that you can't assign keystrokes, which is simply not true. No, you can't change the basic ones every VoiceOver user will use (vo-arrows, vo-cmd-h/t/l/etc, vo-a/s/p/c/w/l, and so on). You can, however, assign any VO command, Automator workflow, AppleScript, or application to a commander. Want to hear the time with option-t? Easy. Next heading with ctrl-flick down? No problem. Change single key navigation assignments? Sure.

Again ........ where can I acomodate my desired commands in a layered keystroke? Nowhere. Screen readers for windows are more flexible, that's all. We do have fine degree of adjustments in VO but we have way way finner control on windows screen readers.

I am a user of both platforms, with Mac as ty first one for most things. However, for me rationally is easier to admit that windows screen readers are more flexible. Remember neither good nor bad, only a fact.

As to scripting, AppleScript and its ability to perform automated tasks on an app's interface should do this. You can even control VoiceOver to a decent degree with AppleScript, if you want to. Plus, I've found applications on Windows that could do with heavy scripting; I've yet to find one on the Mac that I can't use at all and that would be fixed with a script. In other words, it seems that, while you can't script to the same degree you can with Windows screen readers, you also don't need to.

This is something technical and we may discuss it somewhere. My main issue here is that you seen to think that I am attacking VO while I am only showing the differences.
I need:
1- have a way of watching to changes on given controls of an application, enabling me to make VO report for example new text comming through any messaging application. Not beg the devs, just go and make it work just the way we did with MSN years before FS would implement it by default on its products, like we did in miranda IM and like we will do, wiithout begging devs, with literally any new messenger clients on windows, btw just the way Dolg Lee has done with skype.
2- Have a way of looking for controls on the window hierarchy of any applications andd moving focus to them. This would make VO work with XCode, again without Begging Apple team, like a heaven enabling folks to work professionally as fast or faster than their sighted peers in a real emploiment cenarius on Apple applications development.

These are two basic aspects that Apple Script seen not to offer or at least not to offer in an integrated way with voiceover. I have been searching hard for these two basic functionalities in scripting for mac OS for many time with no results at all.

For home use I can loose time, but not at work. If I have to use VO in the work place I need to make sure my needs will be filled, and I can't do it without a robust scripting system.

Remember: debunking mits does not mean saying that there are no room for improvements. This would be in turn a mit of VO.

OS 10 and productivity

My only real reason to continue using a windows PC is productivity. Although pages has come a long way, its still not up to par with MS word. I will use my windows machine less and less once I graduate college I'm pretty certain.
also, a lot of blind friendly games cannot be played on the mac. I understand that there is an accessible mud client, but I'm willing to bet that the mud client in question is not as afficient or as flexible as VIP mud or Mush z for example. I love my mac, probably the best apple product I've ever bought, but it doesn't completely replace my windows machine.
Finally, I also have a sense of comfort using a windows PC that I'm most likely not going to have on the mac. This is partly to do with my almost 20 years of using jaws and windows computers,but also because I grew with it. I can look back through out the last decade and link any major life event with what machine or operating system I was running. I know this fact probably solidifies my nerd status, but so be it. :)

os x productivity

Another thing is that as far as I know there is no VO specific training for OS X apps. FS, for example, offers paid online classes to help you get proficient in MS Office apps like Word and Power Point--things that put you at a disadvantage if you don't really know. There are also other places that do online courses in Office productivity, but they are all geared toward the Windows world.

Sure it's great that iWork is free with a new Mac, but what I want is some good training on how to use it with VoiceOver. Last time I really tried to make documents look good, I ran into the bug in Pages that causes your selection to disappear if your selection goes over to a second page. From what I've heard, this still happens and it is a deal breaker, at least for me. I haven't done much playing with numbers and keynote, though.

If there are tutorials for using iWork with VO either here or elsewhere, please kindly point me to them. The place I interned at offered to pay for training that I think I would need, but that would probably mean I would have to buy a new copy of Windows 8, and pay who knows how much to get my JAWS license current again--something I don't really want to do if I don't have to.

I can think of one

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

There's a woman on the Macvisionaries email list who has a book about Pages with VoiceOver, and offers training. Her name is Anne, if you want to join the list and ask about it. There's also a free iBook, called something like "Mastering the Mac with VoiceOver" that has a section all about iWork apps. Plus, Apple does offer one-to-one training at its stores, just be sure the store you go to has someone who knows VoiceOver.

OS X Productivity Training options

I can recommend two excellent resources for OS X training.

The first resource is iWork training provided by Anne & Archie Robertson, and you can read my complete review of their iWork training here:

The second resource is John Panarese and his "Mac For the Blind" services. John holds several Apple certifications, is a frequent contributor to several Apple Vi listserves, and offers a number of training resources which can be found on his website,

These, of course, are not the only training resources available for folks who want to learn OS X, but if live training is your preference, both Anne & John have earned excellent reputations for their remote training offerings.


Thank you for a great article

I recently joined aMac (VoiceOver) user group where we try to share our experiences, and I found that a bunch of us are interacting and holding the VO keys " way too much. .. And they have done this kind of navigation for years and it is not so easy for them to let go of their ways.
I'm wondering why these myths came up in the first place and why they are so persistent, even with people who use and like the Mac.

Capslock substitution already done in El Capitan

I saw somewhere in one of the above comments that one needs skills and tools to map Caps lock key to VO keys but Apple has done it in El capitan and newbies like myself to Mac world find it really convenient.

Before elcap...

before elcap, you did need these skills, but in elcap they've made it a feature. Thank god, too.


Yes, the blind community who are windows users often no not what they are talking about when it comes to VO and the mac. They often want to do something the way they always have done on windows and in some cases on a mac you can, but they fail to realize is that a mac isn’t windows, it has it’s own ways of doing and accomplishing things. Take the VO keys for example: a vast majority of the time it isn’t necessary to use them when quick Nav is turned on. yes, you will have to depending on what you are doing but you don’t have to a lot of the time. Another thing is that with quick nav on you can preform things easier. Take interacting for example: with quick Nav off you have to you VO keys and up or down arrow to interact or to stop interacting, with quick nav on, you press down and right arrow to interact, and down and left arrow to stop interacting. I could go on and on how easy it is to do so. Another great feature of VO is that a tutorial is built into the mac as well as keyboard help to let you practice your VO commands. One last thing, you can now mostly eliminate interacting with VO by going to VO utility, and going to navigation I think it is if you wish. I like interacting and as it takes much of the clutter of the screen away that windows screen readers have. If I choose not to go into a table, list or other, I don’t have to go by it, I can skip it all together.


Indeed. This is true.

Interestingly on windows if

Interestingly on windows if you tab to a list and do not want it you just tab another time and go to another window component.

I am a Mac and Windows user and while reporting incorrectly mits about Mac is something to be avoided I would say so it is for mits on windows.

Take MS outlook for example: a tabv puts yyou on the list of e-mails. Another tab puts you on the mailbox list. No need to vo left thre times interact choose another mailbox (and by the way ... have to wait untill the list of messages loads for the new mailbox even if its not the one you want because you have to go one by one while painfully listenning to a mail busy mail busy thing) than stop interacting vo right three times interact vo right interact and keep doing that.

Macs have their own ways to acumplish tasks. Some of them are better some are worse than the windows way amd best or worse depends fully on personal opinion.

I use both systems each one for what it is best to.

This is why ratter than saying windows users are stp*d and do not know what they're talking about or saying Mac users are sh*t and they do not know what they're talking about we must inform folks on the way of doing things and let each one to choose what is best to each one.

Macs have copied stuff from windows screen readers, go try to navigate with arrows on safari with quick navigation off ..... this is something we already had on windows for many time and Windows screen readers have copied Mac's way of doing things, go take a look at smart navigation on JAWS 17.
Ratter than fighting the platforms should colaborate and this is what is happening. Some will help improve it all some will stay fighting ... I go with the first of those folks.

VoiceOver SayAll does not follow along with cursor.

I have been using windows for a long time with nvda or jaws. I started out with VoiceOver some months ago. I thank you a lot for these wonderful articles like this one. I found however, a problem related to cursor movement that VoiceOver does not handle properly. When I tell it to SayAll from cusor or from the beginning or I move one page down or up, system cursor does not follow along VoiceOver as would otherwise happend in windows Screen Readers. When I move cursor in MAC it goes much more responsive going foreward thatn going backward, specially in ios application as AccessNote with Ipad Mini 4. I hope you could give me an idea to sole this problem out. I really thank you a lot, regards.

Returning to the same position within different applications

Hello For my situation I interact with say for instance I'm writing a document in Pages and I need to switch because I I have to perform a quick search online to have the Voiceover cursor stay within the boundaries of the application your working with press Control+option+shift+down+arrow. than once you return to that same position you'll find that it saved your spot so you don't have to go searching for it.

Other myths to be shared

Hello regarding the answer to your first question the Mac has finder which in an of its self is a file system that let's you store create save and edit documents. Your second questions which is relating to Pdf documents on the Mac it can be worked with but you have to willing to learn which solutions are their. that o work wwiwth VoiceOver.
Another thing is it's you had to OCR a pdf file OCR apps are so good on the Mac that they are accurate.
If you decide to switch operating systems though, be sure to spend some time at a local Apple store or try t to see if a friend of has a Mac and explore a bit and play around with VoiceOver


I hear sso many people talk about the bugs and problem using it that is not a myth. Specially with VO. Myth? I always use windows and will do so. I do not need to learn anything to use it. Also Microsoft is very responsive to questions and issues with accessibility.. However I do like my iPhone and looking to get iOS 14. It can not be worse than unlucky 13.