Accessibility in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

Last week Apple released Mac OS X 10.7, a.k.a. OS X Lion. There are many news and changes in this version of Mac OS X, some of them pretty fundamentally changing how you use your Mac. For an in-depth review of Lion I recommend John Siracusa’s Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: the Ars Technica review.

I’ve taken a look at some of the changes that affect accessibility, and there are quite a few nice improvements. The Mac OS X Accessibility page as always has an overview of the built in assistive technologies. There’s also an overview of what’s new on the page listing Lion’s new features. Here are some highlights.

New VoiceOver languages

Finally VoiceOver has built-in support for speaking other languages than English—it comes with voices for 22 languages (including Swedish, yay!). In addition to that, even more languages and dialects, as well as higher-quality versions of the languages included in the install are available for download (and are free).

It isn’t completely obvious that there are additional voices available, so here’s how to find them:

  1. Open the VoiceOver Utility (found in the Universal Access preference pane)
  2. Go to the Speech tab and choose Customize… from the Voice popup menu
  3. Check the voices you want to add and click OK
  4. Software Update will launch and ask if you want to download and install the voices you selected

The addition of voices in additional languages is probably the most obvious VoiceOver improvement to people who either do not speak English or read a lot of content that is not in English. It’s been a bit frustrating that VoiceOver in iOS has had built-in support for multiple languages for a long time while Mac OS X didn’t, but now you can use VoiceOver on your Mac to hear content in many other languages without buying and installing third party voices.

Curiously it seems that VoiceOver doesn’t pick up language changes indicated by lang attributes on web pages, even if the corresponding voices are installed. For people who regularly read web pages in different languages it would be great if VoiceOver could automatically switch languages.

Picture-in-picture zoom

You can now choose to see the zoomed area in a separate window instead of zooming the entire screen. The position and size of the zoom window are configurable, and you can choose whether it will follow the cursor or stay in one place. You can also choose to have the zoomed-in window stick to one of the edges of your screen.

VoiceOver activities

Instead of changing VoiceOver’s settings when you do different things on your Mac, you can now save settings in groups called activities. You can either change activities manually or set VoiceOver to tie an activity to a specific application and switch automatically as you move between applications.

Single-letter quick navigation in web pages

Some other screen readers let you navigate content by single-letter keyboard commands. Now VoiceOver does too. Pressing the left and right cursor arrows simultaneously toggles Quick Nav on or off. When it’s on you can press 1-6 to find the next heading of the corresponding level, l to find the next link, x for the next list, etc. These keys are configurable, so you’re free to change them, remove them, or add your own.

ARIA landmarks

VoiceOver now lets you use ARIA landmarks, if they are present, to navigate web pages. If Quick Nav is active you can use the w and W keys to navigate to the next or previous landmark. When you use the arrow keys to navigate around a page, VoiceOver announces when you enter and leave landmarks, including the type of landmark (for example “Leaving main landmark, entering complementary landmark”).

More information

Those are the news that stood out to me. For full details, go to Apple’s Mac OS X Accessibility page.

Posted on July 30, 2011 in Accessibility, Mac, Apple