What accessibility features are available within the Macintosh operating system ?

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AccessIT Article ID: 1014

Some individuals with disabilities require assistive technology (AT) in order to access computers. Although Apple has been criticized for the accessibility shortcomings of its Mac OS operating system, it made significant progress in improving accessibility with the release of Mac OS X, and has taken it upon itself to develop and provide AT that supports and ships with its OS, without additional cost to the consumer.

The following is a list of basic accessibility features that are included with Mac OS X, listed by disability category. For more information about how to access the features described below visit Apple Accessibility.

Vision

The following features and utilities are availalable for individuals who have difficulty viewing the screen:

  • Voiceover - provides both speech input and audible output, combined with support for keyboard navigation
  • Talking alerts and spoken items
  • Zoom - users can magnify the screen
  • Scalable cursor - users can increase the size of the mouse cursor
  • Display adjustment - users can adjust or reverse color contrast

Hearing

The following features and utilities are availalable for individuals who have difficulty hearing or are unable to hear sounds from the computer:

  • Visual alert of all system sounds
  • iChat - deaf users can communicate with one another using sign language using this video conferencing system due its excellent video quality.
  • QuickTime - Apple's QuickTime media player supports display of closed captions, if available. For more on closed captioning, see the AccessIT Knowledge Base article How do I make multimedia accessible?

Physical/Motor

The following features and utilities are availalable for individuals who have difficulty using the keyboard, mouse and/or track pad:

  • Slow Keys - adds a delay between when a users presses a key and when it takes effect to help prevent unintended multiple keystrokes
  • Sticky Keys - allows users to press keys in sequence that are otherwise required to be pressed simulatenously
  • Keyboard navigation - much improved in OS X, allows keyboard access to most standard interface elements
  • Mouse Keys - use the keyboard to control the mouse cursor
  • Speech recognition and talking alerts - use speech commands to open, close, and navigate the operating system and software. This utility does not support dictation, but third party dictation programs are available such as Dragon Dictate for Mac)

Literacy and Learning

The following features and utilities are availalable to support literacy and learning, and may be particularly beneficial to individuals with specific learning disabilities:

  • Speak text under mouse - just point and listen
  • Text-to-Speech - verbally reads alerts that appear on the screen, and can also read documents in certain applications
  • Audible Calculator
  • Since Apple Computers have historically been strong in the K-12 education market, a wide variety of third party software products are available in this category.

For a comparison of accessibility features across operating systems, see the AccessIT Knowledge Base article How does accessibility differ across operating systems?

Last update or review: January 24, 2013