AMITIAE - Wednesday 23 October 2013
System Preferences in OS X 10.9, Mavericks: Accessibility (Updated)
By Graham K. Rogers
As each item in the left side window is highlighted, so controls are shown in the main panel. At the bottom of every pane is a singel checkbox: Show Accessibility status in menu bar. When the menu bar feature is on this is shown in the menu. As well as the icon, a scrolling text is shown for a short period when certain features (e.g Sticky Keys) are activated.
SeeingThe three items in this section are Display, Zoom and VoiceOver.
Display works as before (Mountain Lion). The settings here are intended for those with vision problems. There are two checkboxes: Invert colors and Use grayscale. The "Invert" feature was previously called, "White on Black". It is also possible to invert the colors using the key combination of Control + Option + Command + 8. The same key combination turns it off.
Two other checkboxes below are to turn on Smooth images (wise when zooming); and to Follow the keyboard focus. A button below these checkboxes allows options for the Zoom style. This is allows either a full screen zoom or "picture in picture" when a panel displays the section of screen zoomed, with the surrounding part not zoomed.
There is a single checkbox: Enable VoiceOver. This may also be turned on using the Command + F5 keys. When either is used, a panel appears and a voice reads out information. A box on the panel allows access to a series of VoiceOver training screens, with a spoken commentary.
The other button opens the VoiceOver Utility panel (similar to System Preferences in appearance) with 10 separate functions, each with their own fine-tuning sections.
HearingThis section includes one of the new features, Captions. There are two options aimed at those with hearing difficulties:
When the panel is opened there are three styles of subtitling: Default, Classic and Large Text. Highlighting one of these displays the style in a window above. There are animated clouds behind the text.
InteractingThe section named, Interacting, was also in Mountain Lion when it included the options for Keyboard, Mouse & Trackpad and Speakable Items. The new control option, Switch Control, has now been added to the other items.
With Sticky keys the last-selected modifier key -- those used in combinations, like Command or Control -- remains active. When turned on (or as a modifier key is pressed), the computer makes a sound. Another sound is made when the feature is turned off. Pressing the key a second time, highlights it (with an optional sound), and pressing a third time cancels the key.
An options button allows some fine tuning: checking a box allows this feature to be active once the shift key is pressed five times. A checkbox below this marked "Beep when a modifier key is set" may be slightly misleading as the sound is more like a mechanical clunk. The placement of the icon that appears may be selected with options for top, bottom, left or right of the screen.
Slow Keys adds a delay for those who have difficulties with initial or repeated keystrokes. Rather than simply tapping a modifier key as in touch typing, the key remains active and a second Key (or more) may be pressed. As an example I pressed Command then Shift, and then 3 to take a screen shot using one finger only. There is a short mechanical sound when the key is pressed and another when it appears on the screen.
A Slow Keys Option button reveals a slider allowing the acceptance delay to be adjusted, so those with disabilities that make typing very slow can be accommodated. I found that moving the slider more than about 25% along produced a delay so significant I was not sure the keys were being recognised. This was the same in OS X 10.8, Mountain Lion.
To access more features, there is a button here that opens the Keyboard preferences.
As it is not convenient to keep turning this options on and off to resume typing, an option panel allows a checkbox to be used to toggle the feature On and Off by pressing the Option key five times.
A further useful checkbox here is the ability to Ignore the built-in trackpad when this feature is on. Two sliders control Initial Delay and Speed.
There are four sections to the panel: General, Switches, Navigation and Timing:
When the panel is active, pressing the space bar cycles through the 8 items (twice) and a voice announces each. If one of the items is clicked on - say the Dock - that function is active: the Dock appears. Pressing the space bar then announces each of the apps that have icons in the Dock. A small rectangular marker highlights the app announced. As the marker hovers over the icon, pressing the space bar activates that app.
The voice and the motion were too fast initially, but this can be adjusted in the Timing panel.
The button marked, Open Panel Editor, makes it possible for a developer to add functions to any of the devices or add new devices to accessibility control. Care needs to be taken when attempting to use such features.
In Settings, two radio buttons are available, to turn the feature on and off. A button allows a specific microphone to be selected, with the default being the computer's internal microphone. A further option is Line In, but others appear if a microphone is attached, say via USB.
A Calibrate button opens a panel with a number of phrases that the user can repeat to assist with recognition, along with a slider to adjust input levels. Below this is a box that when checked gives a spoken command recognition and a button beneath allows selection of a system sound to add to confirmation (or None).
The panel for Listening Key allows the user to specify which key is pressed when speaking a command so that the computer listens. This is marked, "Change Key". The ESC key is the default on my Mac, but the user may change this to another key (or combination). Below are two radio buttons that control listening: only when the key (e.g. ESC) is pressed, or continuously.
The Commands panel allows certain specified types of key commands to be used, such as for Contacts or for Application Switching. Some of these (such as names in the Address Book) are configurable using a button available on the panel. Two other buttons are available: Open Speakable Items Folder which shows the contents (and commands that can be used); and Helpful Tips, a panel with some suggestions on how the feature can be used.
Additional InformationAs often happens, the morning after an update (or the morning after putting an item online), someone comes up with an idea that is totally relevant and not to be missed.
Writing on TUAW, Steven Sande has a tip for using Speakable Items with an Automator workflow, so that certain actions (e.g. launching apps) can be done with a voice command. This is a video tip and the Flash video (why Flash in a Mac-centric publication?) is embedded in the page.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.
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