Apple has today released macOS 12 Monterey to the public. As usual, we won’t cover the mainstream features here, concentrating instead on what's new and changed for blind and low vision users. For an overview of the mainstream changes, we recommend that you read this in-depth review by MacStories.
Please remember to check the section about bugs to see if now is the right time to upgrade. There’s no harm in holding off a few weeks or months to let Apple address a problem you may find too disruptive to deal with.
A note to braille users: the AppleVis team members doing testing with macOS Monterey are not heavy braille users. We have no information as to how well braille works in this release, so please keep this in mind when upgrading. If you are a braille user and have any experience with macOS Monterey and braille, please do post your findings in the comments.
Changes for Blind and Low Vision Users
Last year Apple brought improved image recognition to macOS Big Sur, along with greater prominence of the VoiceOver Actions menu. This year, macOS Monterey brings some more changes and a handful of bug fixes.
- VoiceOver image descriptions in Markup: Markup lets you add image descriptions that can be read by VoiceOver. Image descriptions persist even when shared and can be read in a range of supported apps on iPhone, iPad and Mac.
- VoiceOver descriptions for PDF signatures: Add custom descriptions to new and existing PDF signatures so you can use the right signature with VoiceOver.
- Accessibility Memoji: Memoji represent more of your look and style with new customizations, including oxygen tubes, cochlear implants and a soft helmet for headgear.
- Voice Control adds new language options including Mandarin Chinese (China mainland), Cantonese (Hong Kong), French, and German.
Improvements for Low Vision Users
macOS Monterey introduces custom mouse pointers, which customize the outline and fill color of the mouse pointer so it’s easier to recognize when it moves or changes to an insertion point, crosshair, hand or other shape. As we do not have any low vision Mac users on our team, however, we are unable to comment on the precise utility of this feature.
If you are a low vision Mac user, we would love to hear in the comments your experience and thoughts on this and any additional enhancements you encounter in macOS Monterey.
- When searching for text on a webpage using VO-F, VoiceOver now only speaks the text in the immediate string, not the surrounding text in that paragraph. To provide context to your search, you must use the arrow keys or stop interacting with the text to have the paragraph spoken. At this time, there is no way to customize this behavior.
- Similar to iOS and iPadOS, VoiceOver on macOS now retains the state of screen curtain so if you, for example, have screen curtain on and then turn VoiceOver off and on again, screen curtain will remain on. Previously, screen curtain on macOS was disabled whenever VoiceOver was toggled off and on again or if the Mac was restarted.
- In some situations, VoiceOver may announce that an app is “Not responding.” In testing, this announcement tends to occur in instances where VoiceOver would have been silent in prior versions of macOS, and is thus a replacement of the familiar "Busy" message. While your results may vary, we do not currently expect this change to affect overall VoiceOver performance.
In its support documentation, Apple lists the following changes for VoiceOver users in macOS Monterey:
- VoiceOver indicates when more information about the item in the VoiceOver cursor is available (you can change this setting in the Hints pane of the Verbosity category in VoiceOver Utility). When more content is available, press VO-Command-/ to hear it.
- Graphs and charts displayed on websites may include audio graphs to make the data they present more accessible. An audio graph uses tones and pitch to create an audible representation of the data and trends shown in a graph or chart. VoiceOver can indicate when an audio graph is available to play and read a summary (if available) of the graph or chart and its axes. To access available audio graphs, press VO-U to open the VoiceOver rotor, then navigate the rotor until you hear “Audio Graphs”.
- You can download additional languages for VoiceOver Recognition.
- If you download different languages in the Voices pane in VoiceOver Utility, VoiceOver automatically switches between the languages, as needed, when reading. For example, if you open a document or visit a web page that contains French and Spanish text, and those languages are available to VoiceOver on your Mac, VoiceOver automatically switches between them when reading the document or web page.
- You can add a description of an image using Markup — for example, in Preview or in Quick Look. To hear the image description you added, press VO-Shift-L.
- When you create a signature using Markup — for example, in Preview or in Quick Look — you can add a description of your signature to help you distinguish between available signatures when you sign PDF documents. In Markup, before you click or tap Done to finish creating your signature, click the Description pop-up menu, choose a description, such as Initials, or choose Custom to create your own description.
- When you’re ready to sign a PDF document, navigate the list of signatures, then when you hear the description of the signature you want to use, press VO-Space bar.
- The default items available in the rotor when you navigate web pages have changed: Web Spots and Images are no longer included by default, and Frames are included. To customise which items are included in the rotor, use the Web Rotor pane of the Web category in VoiceOver Utility.
- VoiceOver automatically creates window spots for additional items in app windows, such as toolbars.
- You can use the Trackpad, NumPad, Keyboard and Quick Nav Commanders in VoiceOver Utility to assign the VoiceOver commands Move to Next Section and Move to Previous Section to keyboard or keypad keys, or gestures, so you can easily navigate window spots and landmarks.
- When you use a braille display with VoiceOver, you can select text by pressing and holding the Shift key on the keyboard at the same time you press router keys above the text you want to select. You can also assign a VoiceOver command to use the Shift key on a braille display.
Bug Fixes and New Bugs for VoiceOver Users
macOS Monterey has its share of fixes, but it also has some new problems, as do all software releases. Below are our findings:
Accessibility Bugs Resolved in macOS Monterey
Our testing indicates that Apple has resolved the following bugs in macOS Monterey. Let us know if we missed any; we always love adding more fixes to these articles.
- VoiceOver no longer appears to get stuck when interaction is disabled.
- VoiceOver performance in Mac Catalyst apps is improved.
- When selecting a conversation in Messages, VoiceOver now correctly announces when focus has changed to the message text field.
New Bugs for VoiceOver Users in macOS Monterey
Our testing suggests that macOS Monterey has relatively few new accessibility bugs to speak of; of note, at the time of posting, we are unaware of any new bugs which we would rate as serious.
Below are the Monterey-specific bugs we identified; if you encounter any not on this list, and which haven't been present since before macOS Monterey, please let us know in the comments. Please also let us know if you find one of our bugs to not be a problem on your Monterey system. Even if it’s still a bug, we can at least note that it doesn’t happen to everyone.
- In various contexts, VoiceOver may pause for an unnatural length of time, for example between the name of a command in the menu bar and the "Ellipsis" sign, or when pressing Command-Tab to switch to another open app and hearing the contents of that app’s active window. Conversely, at other times, such as when speaking headings in Control Center dialogs, VoiceOver does not pause between the word "Heading" and the headings contents. This issue occurs most prominently when using the Alex voice.
- When changing the VoiceOver voice using the speech rotor, voice names are spoken by the voice already in use, as opposed to the selected voice. For example, with Alex set as the default voice, when pressing VO-Command-Shift Down-Arrow in the voice menu, names like Daniel and Fiona are spoken by Alex. Previously, voice names would be spoken by their respective voices as you navigated the menu.
- When focusing on a web table with interaction not required, VoiceOver does not speak the first header of the table when navigating with VO-Right-Arrow. You must press VO-Left-Arrow to move back to the header, at which point it will be spoken as expected. This occurs consistently with web tables across multiple apps.
- In System Preferences > Passwords and Safari > Preferences > Passwords, there is a dimmed button labeled "Spacer." As this button does not seem to serve any functional purpose, it should not be visible to VoiceOver.
- When exploring the canvas of a photo in Photos with VoiceOver enabled, it is not possible to navigate and select text in the photo using the arrow keys.
- When changing the value of a slider in Shortcuts using VoiceOver, VoiceOver does not acknowledge the change, instead repeating the original state of the slider.
macOS Monterey Release Notes
macOS Monterey lets you connect, share, and create like never before. Enjoy new FaceTime audio and video enhancements, including spatial audio and Portrait mode. Get more done with powerful productivity tools like Focus, Quick Note, and Tab Groups in Safari. Work fluidly across your devices with AirPlay to Mac.
- Spatial audio makes voices sound like they come from the direction of a speaker on the screen in a Group FaceTime call
- Voice Isolation blocks background noises so your voice is crystal clear
- Wide Spectrum brings every sound in your space into the call
- Portrait mode puts the focus on you by blurring your background on Mac computers with the M1 chip
- Grid view displays people in same-size tiles and highlights the active speaker
- FaceTime links for inviting friends to calls on Apple, Android, or Windows devices
- Shared with You displays content shared over Messages in your Mac apps
- New Shared with You section in Photos, Safari, News, Podcasts, and the TV app
- Multiple photos display as collages or stacks in Messages
- Tab Groups help you save and organize your tabs and sync across devices
- Intelligent Tracking Prevention prevents trackers from viewing your IP address
- Compact tab bar option lets you see more of the webpage on your screen
- Focus lets you automatically filter out notifications based on what you're doing
- Options to customize a Focus for activities like work, gaming, reading, and more
- Focus sets across all Apple devices
- Status lets your contacts know that your notifications are silenced
Quick Note & Notes
- Quick Note lets you take notes on any app or website, and easily revisit them later
- Tags help you quickly categorize your notes by topic and make them easy to find
- Mentions enable you to notify others of important updates in shared notes
- Activity view displays who made recent changes in a shared note
AirPlay to Mac
- AirPlay to Mac lets you share content from iPhone or iPad straight to your Mac
- AirPlay speaker support for playing music through your Mac sound system
- Live Text makes text interactive in photos across the system
- Support for copying, translating, and looking up text that appears in photos
- Visual Look Up helps you learn about art, landmarks, and other objects in photos
- New app helps you automate everyday tasks, helping you accomplish them faster
- Gallery with pre-built shortcuts that you can add and run throughout the system
- Shortcuts editor helps you design custom shortcuts for your specific workflows
- Support for automatically converting Automator workflows into shortcuts
- Interactive 3D globe with enhanced details for mountains, oceans, and more on Mac computers with the M1 chip
- Detailed city maps display elevation, trees, buildings, landmarks, and more on Mac computers with the M1 chip
- Mail Privacy Protection helps prevent senders from tracking your Mail activity
- Recording indicator in Control Center for apps that are accessing your mic
- iCloud Private Relay (beta) helps prevent companies from creating a detailed profile of your browsing activity in Safari
- Hide My Email creates unique, random email addresses that forward to your inbox
macOS Monterey is a solid update that adds a few new features and enhancements for blind and low vision users. We encountered no show-stopping bugs in this version of macOS. Our recommendation is to update when you're ready. You may want to give developers time to update their apps and others opportunity to find the bugs or other problems we missed, but we believe most users should be okay to update now.
As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on this update. What do you like? What do you not like? Let us know by adding a comment below.
To install macOS Monterey, choose System Preferences from the Apple menu, click the Software Update preference pane, and click the Update Now button to begin the update process. If other updates are available, you can click "More info" to see details about them and select specific updates to install.
More information on how to update the software on your Mac is available on this Apple Support page.