Top Ten Myths About the Mac and Its Accessibility to the Blind

By Josh de Lioncourt, updated by Michael McCarty

I have compiled this list based on many false beliefs I have seen expressed in a variety of forums and from many individuals in the blind and visually impaired community. If you have questions please ask, and feel free to pass this list on to any and all you think may benefit from it.

The following list is not all inclusive, but it does provide information on the most commonly held Mac myths in the visually impaired community. I hope you find this list informative and helpful.

  1. Myth: VoiceOver does not include scripting functionality, like that in Jaws for Windows, rendering it less useful than its Windows counterparts.

    Truth: While VoiceOver itself does not include scripting functionality, the Mac OS X operating system does. AppleScript provides a great deal of similar functionality and features visually impaired Windows users are used to in Jaws scripts, and then some. Other tools, such as the Automator are also available, which may be used in enhancing access to applications and the OS. The upshot to all of which is, of course, that VoiceOver does not need to duplicate that which the operating system already provides.

  2. Myth: ITunes is not accessible on the Mac with VoiceOver.

    Truth: ITunes is almost entirely accessible with VoiceOver, and has been steadily improving as updates to Apple's media player have been released. VoiceOver users can easily browse, organize, listen to, and manage their music and playlists, as well as work with the content on their iPods.

  3. Myth: VoiceOver is very limited due to its lack of using an OSM (off screen model).

    Truth: Windows screen readers that do not use an OSM are severely limited, which is likely where this misconception arises. Mac has a much more robust and well-designed accessibility infrastructure. It has undergone radical renovations in recent years, and has been designed with accessibility in mind. Unlike Windows, OSM's are not critical to making the OS and third-party applications accessible. Just like Windows, visually impaired users will suffer inaccessibility when trying to use applications which are highly graphical in nature. Overall access between the two systems is very comparable, with Mac surpassing Windows in many key areas, due to its better accessibility framework.

  4. Myth: There is no Braille display support on the Mac.

    Truth: Braille displays are supported.

  5. Myth: You cannot produce or emboss Braille content from a Mac.

    Truth: Many free open source tools, complete with GUI interfaces, have been developed for the Mac for just such a purpose. Louis for Mac is a great tool for Braille translation into a variety of languages, and is freely available at http://w3.wmcnet.org/louis/.

  6. Myth: You cannot perform OCR with a Mac.

    Truth: While not entirely flawless solutions, several OCR packages for Mac are perfectly usable with VoiceOver, including the popular OmniPage. For users with less robust needs, several Canon CanoScan models of scanners come with basic accessible OCR software for less than $80, all inclusive.

  7. Myth: You can't read PDF files with VoiceOver.

    Truth: Reading PDF files with VoiceOver is simple and painless, and is far easier with the Mac's built-in Preview program for PDF viewing than with Adobe Acrobat Reader under Windows with Windows screen readers.

  8. Myth: VoiceOver has not been updated in over two years.

    Truth: VoiceOver is an integral part of the operating system. As software and components of the operating system are updated, accessibility with VoiceOver often improves. VoiceOver itself does not need to have new releases for better performance, and indeed we have seen a number of OS updates that have improved accessibility on the Mac.

  9. Myth: Most software for the Mac doesn't work with VoiceOver.

    Truth: Most modern software for the Mac is developed with Cocoa, a derivitive of Objective C. Cocoa provides inherent accessibility functionality, and the XCode tools needed to build Cocoa applications is available with every Mac. Most Mac software developed in the last several years will work well to stellar with VoiceOver without any effort on the part of the third-party developer. As a result, a treasure trove of Mac freeware and shareware is available that works out of the box with VoiceOver. Much of this software can be found at http://www.pure-mac.com and a newly begun list of software and its accessibility rating with VoiceOver can be found at http://w3.wmcnet.org/vo/.

  10. Myth: VoiceOver requires you to learn a huge array of extremely complicated commands to use the OS effectively.

    Truth: VoiceOver commands are logical and designed not to conflict with application or OS commands. The Mac OS provides built-in navigation similar to what Windows users are accustomed to, such as tab to move from control to control, and spacebar to activate them. VoiceOver navigation and usage is no more complex than any other screen reader on any other platform, though it is significantly innovative in its strategy.

Comments

Being a PC person, I have limited experience with the Mac. I acknowledge that Voice Over seems to be a very useful and flexibile solution for those who choose to go that way. Where the Mac seems to fall short is with screen magnification. Certainly, its built in 'Zoom' application is far better than Windows' 'Magnifier'. Unfortunately the magnified text Zoom provides is very soft and yields poor contrast when compared to that of PC solutions such as Zoomtext or mAGIC. I would love to know if there is a third party application for the Mac that matches what Zoomtext can do.

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