Mac OS X Leopard Accessibility

If you attended ACTEM but didn’t have a chance to catch up with the accessibility features built into Mac OS X Leopard, here’s a rundown of what’s new (and some reminders of the oldies but goodies). Thanks to Mike Shebanek of Apple for his informative workshop!

Note: The “command” (cmd) key referenced below is the key on either side of your spacebar (sometimes called the “Apple” key).

Desktop Features
From the Finder, press the cmd and J keys together (cmd-J) . Alternatively, choose View > Show Options from the Finder menu. A “Desktop” floating palette will open, from which you can change the:

  • Size of your desktop icons
  • Amount of space that each icon takes up (“Grid Spacing”)
  • Size of the icon text label
  • Position of the icon text label (i.e., it doesn’t have to appear at the bottom)
  • Arrangement of your icons (e.g., by name or date created among other options)

When you press cmd-J while inside a folder (be in the icon view), note that the floating palette changes. The palette is contextual, changing based on the location that you want to customize (i.e., desktop or folder). When in a folder, for example, you can change the background color, allowing you or your students to color code folders as an organizational strategy.

Desktop Navigation You can navigate the Menu Bar via the keyboard by pressing the ctrl-fn-F2 keys together. Your Apple menu will light up, from where you can press the arrow keys to move across the Menu Bar and down menu items.

Dock Preferences
You can get to Dock Preferences (size, magnification, position, etc) by ctrl-clicking on the “highway strip” on the Dock. If you haven’t changed your Dock, the highway strip should appear to the left of the MARVEL springboard. If you’ve shaken your Dock up a bit, look for the highway strip at the end of the series of application icons. Note that you can still get to Dock Preferences from the Apple menu.

Mouse & Trackpad Options
Go to System Preferences and choose Universal Access > Mouse & Trackpad. Nothing new here but it was good to be reminded that all of us who project our computers for any audience should enlarge our cursor size. Although I get a lot of rubbing for it, I tend to leave my cursor enlarged all the time. That way, I won’t forget to change it before a presentation. Mike also rightly suggested that we should use the Desktop floating palette (cmd-J) to enlarge our icons and their text label sizes when projecting. These “access” features are obviously there to support low vision, as well.

While in the Universal Access panel, choose the Seeing tab. The Zoom feature is another helpful display tool in addition to being supportive of low vision. Turn Zoom on and you can press the option – cmd – = keys together to zoom in and option – cmd – – keys to zoom out. (Note that the “=” key also has a “+” on it (“make bigger”) and you can think of “-” on the zoom out combination as “make smaller.) For better control of zooming, choose the Options button and consider experimenting with the following:

  • Zoom follows the keyboard focus (helpful while typing)
  • Only when the pointer reaches an edge (keeps the screen from moving with the cursor)
  • So the pointer is at or near the center of the image (forces the cursor to stay in the center of the screen)

An alternative to the Zoom keys is to “ctrl – 2-finger scroll” on your trackpad. That is, while pressing the ctrl key, place your index and middle fingers together on the trackpad and gently push them away from you to zoom in and pull them toward you to zoom out.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling
If you use the scroll arrows to move scroll bars up/down or left/right (as opposed to clicking and dragging the scroll bar), you may have had the experience of clicking the down (or right) arrow when you meant to choose the up (or left) and vice versa. This could be due to the default placement of those arrows being together. To move them apart so they are placed at the top and bottom (or far right and far left) of a scroll bar, choose System Preferences > Appearance.

Access to Characters
Does the standard keyboard limit your ability to communicate in the language of your content area? The International panel is for you. Go to System Preferences > International > Input Menu tab. Choose the Formats tab and in the Region pull-down menu, choose United States. An American flag icon will appear on your Menu Bar (in the vicinity of your battery charge icon). Next, choose the Input Menu tab (to the right of the Formats tab, and choose Character Palette. Now, click on that American flag icon and choose Show Character Palette. Open TextEdit and click and drag characters from the palette to a TextEdit document (or double-click the character). Note lots of categories that span math and language. The Action Menu at the bottom left corner of the palette (the “gear” icon), will give you additional options, such as creating a favorites list for quick reference.

Onscreen Keyboard
Returning to System Preferences > International > Input Menu, note the Keyboard Viewer. Select this and the option to Show Keyboard Viewer will be added to the choices under your American flag icon in the Menu Bar. Click on the maximize button to enlarge it (round green button in the upper left corner of the Keyboard Viewer). This onscreen keyboard may be useful for switch access, but I haven’t tried it.

Searching your computer
Spotlight is a fast way to find just about anything on your computer. You can access Spotlight by clicking the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner of your desktop or press cmd-space bar together. Type the first few letters of what you’re looking for, and Spotlight will immediately begin to return results. Click once on the file/app/folder/definition (whatever you search for and find) to open it. You can also launch applications right from Spotlight. To open the folder that a file is in, cmd-click on it in the list of Spotlight results. You can customize Spotlight from System Preferences > Spotlight. Under Privacy tab, you can drag and drop files/folders that you don’t want to appear when Spotlight searching.

Keyboard Shortcuts
I’m often asked about keyboard shortcuts. A list exists at System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse > Keyboard Shortcuts tab. Note that these are systemwide shortcuts, as opposed to those for specific applications. Also note that you can change the shortcuts for your computer or create your own (for all or just specific applications).

Trackpad Sensitivity
Diverse users often struggle with the default settings for how the trackpad responds to touch and finger movement. Go to System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse > Trackpad tab to put your trackpad in its place!

Note that Leopard has a new voice known as Alex. He’s the default system voice, but to find him, choose System Preferences > Speech > Text to Speech tab. You can speed him up or slow him down. You can also set him to speak whenever you select text on your computer (from any application as long as the text is digital as opposed to an image). To do this, choose Speak selected text when the key is pressed, and then choose the Set Key button (it may automatically drop down for you). Choose a combination of keys to press together to activate text-to-speech (ctrl + two other keys is a good choice). The keys will appear in the window automatically when you press them (no need to click inside the box). Test this out by selecting some digital text from a word processor or a Web page. Press the combination keys that you chose in the Set Key window and Alex should begin speaking (a bit of delay is typical). Press the selected keys again to stop him.

If Alex isn’t the voice for you, certainly experiment with the other voices available. I’m hoping that “Alexandra” will live in the next OS X!

And if you want more voice options, check out Cepstral or Assistiveware These will cost you a little, but may be worth the expenditure.

Other options in System Preferences
So many options, so little time to blog. Lots more to examine in the Universal Access panel of System Preferences. Note that these are hardware options, meaning that they apply across applications on your Mac.

Know what you’re looking for but can’t seem to uncover it among all those panels in System Preferences? Try the Search field in the upper right corner of the System Preferences pane.

Safari Accessibility

  • Make changes to the toolbar: View > Customize Toolbar. Drag and drop toolbar items. The “little A/big A” icon is a nifty one to add because it allows you to increase/decrease the text size from the toolbar (cmd-+ and cmd– are the shortcut keys).
  • Change your homepage: The default homepage is MLTI Educator. If you prefer another, go to Safari > System Preferences > General
  • Set the minimum text size on all Web pages: Safari > System Preferences > Advanced (note that this only applies to text – images, Java, Flash, etc don’t apply)
  • Choose your own stylesheet: If you have a student with specific needs when it comes to how a Web page appears, Safari will allow you to add a customized stylesheet. Go to Safar > System Preferences > Advanced

I gave (attempted?) a VoiceOver workshop for Maine’s Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) a couple of years ago. I muddled my way through it, and now realize why VO didn’t come to me more intuitively. I learned how to use a screen reader with JAWS for Windows, and was applying what I knew based on that program. VO is much different, and I must say that I’ve been underestimating it. Much more than a screen reader, VO is an accessible operating system because it’s built in and combines audio, text, and Braille. A tutorial is beyond the scope of this blog (already endless), but I encourage you to examine VO and to know that it is a viable option for many students with unique access needs. For some perspectives on VO, join Screenless Switchers or visit MacVisionaries

One last note to consider: iChat is Sign Language – supported when coupled with an iSight camera.

Lots to digest, which is a good problem to have when it comes to options for supporting the widest possible number of learners!


1 comment so far

  1. KarenJanowski on

    Thanks for the twit DM to let me know about your blog post. I’ll add this to delicious.

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