Meet my Mean Machine
This is a beautifully sleek powerhouse that I absolutely adore. Stop for a moment to visualize the 27-inch screen
-- it's huge!
Where do I find the accessibility features? Open 'System Preferences' and click on 'Universal Access'
OK, we're here. Now what do all of these things do?
FIrst, let's look at the 'Seeing' tab. If you are blind or visually impaired, there are three main options to help you: VoiceOver, Zoom, and Display.
This is a powerful tool that allows a visually impaired user to navigate around the computer. Turn VoiceOver on either by selecting the bullet or hitting command-fn-F5.
You will be directed to this tutorial that will read to you and introduce you to the VoiceOver command keys, teach you how to navigate webpages, how to select from the dock, and other helpful tools. I turned VoiceOver on and listened to the audio prompts that directed my every move. It told me what I was clicking on, what it said, what name I was saving my file as, and held my hand everywhere I went. For users who rely on this tool extensively, they will learn the shortcut keystrokes and become much more familiar than I am with the commands. Yet, even in the short time I experimented with it I was amazed at its ease and functionality. This tool could also be used to help non-readers navigate around more effectively. I'm going to try it with my Kindergartner and see how he does.
From the 'Systems Preferences' screen shown above, click on 'Open VoiceOver Utility' to get directed to this screen. Users are able to adjust all sorts of settings to suit their own needs, and even export these preferences to use on another machine. Users can adjust the voice and nationality of the reader (they even have names like Alex, Bruce, Vicky, and Kathy). The users can also set preferences for external devices such as Braille keyboards.
OK, now let's look at Zoom. While users can enlarge a website in various browsers, or enlarge text in a word processor, Zoom enlarges the entire screen and gives the user complete control. FIrst, turn on Zoom. This immediately makes the screen large wherever the mouse cursor moves. Click 'Zoom in window' If you want a window to appear around everything you point to for even further enlargement, similar to moving a magnifying glass over the screen. Click on 'Options...' to adjust various magnification settings.
Experiment with the different colors and contrast options for the computer display. Sadly, my screen capture wouldn't actually capture some of these cool effects, but you can try it out. For users with certain types of vision impairments, these options might help with overall readability. The 'white on black' button changes the entire screen black and all the text white, kind of like an X-ray. Click the 'Use grayscale' button to get ride of all colors and make everything shades of gray. The 'Enhance contrast' slider adjusts the level of contrast for the entire screen.
Speech to Text
One more useful function is found in 'System Preferences' under 'Speech.' The computer speaks text to the user in a fully customizable format. Interestingly, a user can also save speech output to a spoken track in iTunes to be played again as needed.
Next let's look at what features can help users who are deaf or hearing impaired. By clicking 'Flash the screen when an alert sound occurs' the computer will accompany audio warnings by a quick screen flash (you can test the effect just for fun). Users can also click the 'Play stereo audio as mono' which is exteremely helpful to users that have unilateral hearing loss, or an impairment in one ear. Of course, the volume control of the monitor can also be adjusted, and many online videos include closed-captions by clicking the 'cc' option.
There are several helps for users who have difficulty using the keyboard. The 'Sticky Keys' is helpful is you have trouble pressing two keys at once. For example, to save a document a user can press command-S in a quick sequence. With the Sticky Keys option on, the user can push command and then S and the computer treats it as a quick sequence. A little gray icon of the first key pressed remained on the screen until the next key was pushed, which was kind of cool but settings allow this to be turned off. 'Slow Keys' helps moderate keystroke spacing for users that push too many keys at a time. The iMac is also fully compatible with accessible external keyboards, and Apple's keyboard can also be configured with alternative layouts (like Dvorak) that reduces the movement needed around the keys.
The mouse can be challenging or impossible to use for some users. Turning the 'Mouse Keys' on enables certain keys on the keyboard to move the cursor just as the mouse would, including dragging and clicking. The speed, sensitivity and delay of mouse gestures can be customized as well as the cursor size. The magic mouse enables the user to assign functions to mouse buttons and recognizes many gestures and swipes. The external trackpad allows more flextibility than a standard mouse by using multi-touch gestures.
Perhaps one of the lesser known built-in applications is called Automator. This allows users to create various 'workflows' of tasks they perform frequently so that they can later have the workflow run automatically. This saves time for everyone, but for users with limited mobility this application can be help minimize keystrokes and mouse movement.