Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard improves accessibility

Apple’s recently released Mac OS X Leopard (a.k.a. Mac OS X 10.5) has a lot of new and improved features that many find exciting. It’s encouraging to note that many of the new features are not just visual bells and whistles, but are there to improve accessibility.

There is a page on Apple’s website that describes the 300+ New Features in Leopard. Some of the features listed in the Universal Access section are:

  • A new voice called Alex
  • Built-in support for Braille displays
  • A virtual Braille display
  • You can now control VoiceOver using only the numeric keypad
  • Improved navigation of long documents and web pages by listing and jumping to headings, tables, links, and text attributes
  • Hot spots lets you monitor up to ten different screen areas and be alerted when they change
  • Drag-and-drop actions can be used by keyboard only in accessible applications
  • Positional audio effects provide an improved sense of location
  • Improved accessibility of bundled applications and utilities

I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of Leopard yet, but the improved accessibility features are among the first things I will take a closer look at when I do (which is hopefully within the next couple of days).

The features mentioned above are from the list of features that are specifically added or improved for accessibility. However, as Ricky Buchanan at ATMac mentions in Leopard: 17 Universal Access Features or more, features like performance increases, Finder improvements, and a grammar checker are also likely to improve accessibility for some people with disabilities.

Posted on October 29, 2007 in Accessibility, Apple, Mac


  1. Since braille is supposed to be tactile, not visual, I really wonder what the benefit of an on-screen virtual braille display is?

  2. October 29, 2007 by Kevin

    I’ve alrealdy upgraded my Macbook to Leopard and so far it’s working very well. The upgrade went easily and the tools are pretty cool. The ones I liked most are the new Finder that imports the Cover Flow function from iTunes and the new iChat which allows the insertion of images and films. If you haven’t upgraded yet, there are some interesting videos I’ve found that show Leopard’s new tools and effects:

  3. I also upgraded to the new OS, and i have been using it for a few days now. And I’m just very disappointed with the usability. For instance in mail, when you create your own junk mail filter, it’s impossible to use the key combo to delete your junk mail. It’s no longer possible to scroll through audio tracks in the finder.

    There were two features that i was looking forward to a lot. First feature is spaces, which is not very useable at all. And second was the auto font activation which doesn’t work… The new dock doesn’t feel right either, active applications are not distinguishable. It would be great if i could just turn of stacks.

    I really hope that the next updates will take care of some of those things.

    When is comes to usability OSX is still the best OS out there. But i have a feeling that with the latest release they forgot where they came from.

  4. Maarten, what do you find so unusable about spaces and why would you want to turn off stacks? Of all the multiple-desktop implementations I’ve used, OSX Spaces is the first one that gets almost everything right, since it makes it so easy to switch between and move windows between them.

    As for stacks, I really wish they had made the trash work as a stack, and they could probably do a few things to improve them, such as making double click open a window instead of the stack and allowing me to re-order the items in the Applications grid.

  5. @Lachlan Hunt: you’re right that the on-screen braille display isn’t useful to blind users, but it can come in very handy to teachers/instructors when working with blind students/colleagues etc. (because, obviously, you can’t ‘watch’ and ‘touch’ a braille display at the same time).

  6. @Lachlan Hunt: I also run a this new Leopard release and I don’t like the spaces as well. It’s okay, it’s doable but it’s far from perfect. A Gnome desktop with Compiz/Beryll effects on it is a way better way of working with multiple desktops. I played with it for quite a while, it has all the features of the ‘Mac OS-effects’ and then some more.

    Spaces on the Mac is nice but as I said is far from perfect! For me using three OS’es regularly I’d still go for Mac OS. Even though Leopard is a ‘not so good’ release. It just seems I’m a lot more productive while working on a Mac.

  7. Lachlan, Spaces fro me is not very usable because it really misses some key feautures. The most important being a seperate dock for each space, being able to name the spaces. Or to have certain applications not limited to one space. For instance i want Adium to show in all spaces.

    And when i open safari in several spaces it will almost randomly go to one of the spaces when i select the application again. The downloads window stays in it’s last position so it will bring you back to that space first.

    I have set Photoshop to be active in only one space. But i can open it in any space. Just as soon as i open a document in Photoshop it will take me to the right space.

    Moving around in spaces is quite easy, but it needs a lot of work before it will work for me. Maybe i’m too demanding…

    As for stacks, i always had my disks there in the dock. With their own icon. Now i can’t seem to change it to the icons that i want there. For me it would be more usefull to turn it off so i can just access the finder that way. I feel like i’m forced some of the new features and i’d really like to be able to turn some of them of.

    I was able to change the dock with the help of a little app to look like as it would be if it where on the side of the screen. Much better, and active applications are more distinguisable.

    Still trying to get the auto font activation to work. FontAgent Pro hasn’t come with an update to work with CS3 for a while, so i was looking forward to this feature in the OS. But opening an InDesign document doesn’t auto activate the right fonts. And it actually shouldn’t matter where the fonts are on your drive. It should use spotlight to find the fonts nescesarry. But even in the fonts folder it doesn’t work.

    My question to you, what do you think of the new folder icons? The folders from the previous systems look better to me. To me that’s actually one of the biggest design mistakes. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste…

  8. virtual braille - funny! blind people will be glad to see that.

    otherwise, it’s good that operation systems in general are moving towards more accessible.

  9. To make spaces more usable, add the Finder to spaces (System/Library/CoreServices/Finder) and set it to be in every space. It almost makes Spaces as good as i was hoping it would be. Still need my independent docks and named spaces for it to be really good.

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