Published 2012-07-27 -- The Mountain Lion OSX operating system by Apple offers several accessibility features for people who experience various forms of disabilities.
Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
The new Mountain Lion OSX operating system offered by Apple offers several accessibility features for people who experience various forms of disabilities.
The features vary from ones aimed at people with vision disabilities to ones for people who are hard of hearing or deaf. The accessibility features have the potential to help many people use a computer when they may not otherwise have the opportunity to do so with the level of ease Apple provides.
Mountain Lion and Vision Disability Accessibility
The accessibility features related to people who experience vision disabilities are built-in to OS X Mountain Lion and involve technologies that assist people to get the most out of their computer. In fact, OS X is the first operating system to include an advanced screen reader as a standard feature, making it possible for people who experience low vision or blindness to control their computer. On an Apple computer part of this technology is called, 'VoiceOver,' and it describes aloud the items which appear on the person's computer screen.
Using VoiceOver, items such as menus, windows, text documents, dialogs and other things are described aloud to the user. With VoiceOver, a person has the ability to control their braille display, keyboard, or Multi-Touch track-pad instead of a mouse. The braille capabilities are nothing short of stunning.
VoiceOver Braille Capabilities
VoiceOver screen reader technology is the first screen reader to provide people with true plug-and-play support for braille displays. The screen-reading technology includes software drivers for more than forty USB and wireless braille displays and they begin working from the moment a person connects them. A feature referred to as, 'braille mirroring,' gives VoiceOver the capability to support more than one braille device at a time - the only screen reader that can do so.
The screen reader can connect up to thirty-two braille displays at the same time on the same computer, giving people the ability to share the things they are working on with others who read braille in the same manner people who are sighted can through use of a video projector. Was that enough for Apple? No - OS X also includes built-in support for greater than eighty new braille tables which support a large range of different languages.
Browsing the Internet and Accessibility
Using VoiceOver can make the Internet much more accessible and easier. People can start reading a web page automatically the instant it loads or have it summarized for them. VoiceOver can read only the page title, headers, links, the number of tables, or other items if you choose. Mountain Lion also gives people a unique control referred to as a, 'rotor,' which - when turned on by rotating two fingers on a Multi-Touch trackpad, gives a person control over how VoiceOver moves through a web page such as by:
- Form Element
A number of web pages are hard to present through a screen reader, so Apple created new types of technologies to interpret and comprehend the visual design of web pages and then use the information to assign, 'virtual tags,' called, 'auto web spots,' which are used to mark important locations on the page. VoiceOver also has built-in voices that speak twenty-two different languages from around the world.
The Safari Browser and Cascading Style Sheets
The Safari browser is included with Mountain Lion OS X and also has Universal Access features for browsing the web. As an example, you can select a checkbox to keep a web page from being displayed using fonts that are smaller than a minimum size you want between nine point and twenty-four point. Pressing the Tab key in Safari navigates only the toolbar and the form elements on the page. If you press the Option-Tab combination, Safari will navigate every element, or if you want you can change the behavior so that if you press the Tab key it will navigate every element, while pressing the Option-Tab combination will only navigate the toolbar and form elements.
With the Style Sheet pop-up menu in Safari's preferences, people can apply a custom Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) that changes the way an entire website is displayed, all without requiring any changes to the website itself. People can affect the way pages are displayed using standard HTML commands to include the font size, color, number of columns and more - customizing the way the page appears to suit their needs.
Zoom and Magnification
'Zoom,' is a form of technology that is built-in to Mountain Lion and is a full-screen magnifier with the ability to magnify items on a person's computer screen up to forty times. People can activate it using a button on their screen, keyboard commands, the scroll ball on their mouse, or through a trackpad gesture. Mountain Lion has a powerful Quartz rending engine meaning graphics, text, and video can be magnified without affecting the performance of the person's computer system.
At least for this writer, the mouse cursor was noticeably small on the screen at first notice. With independent Zoom magnification, your mouse cursor can be magnified so you can see it more easily and follow it when you move it. Your cursor stays magnified to the size you like even when the shape of the cursor changes, and the scaling stays the same until you change it - even if you log out, shut down, or restart your computer. You can use cursor scaling along with Zoom and other features available on an Apple computer, giving you the ability to adapt your computer to your needs.
There are three different options for how a screen image moves as a person types or moves their mouse cursor with Mountain Lion. The cursor can move continuously as a person moves the cursor, it may move only when the cursor reaches the edge of the screen. The mouse cursor can also move so it stays in the middle of the screen, an option that is wonderful for people who have a narrow field of vision. With OS X it is also possible to set a minimum and maximum magnification value for instant zooming to a specific magnification, preventing the magnification from going to low or high and leaving the screen unreadable.
Mountain Lion and Hearing Accessibility
The new Mountain Lion OS X presents a number of features that are designed to assist people who experience hearing disabilities and might have difficulties with hearing things such as sounds, computer speech, or alerts. The voices in VoiceOver use advanced technologies designed to deliver natural intonation even at incredibly fast speaking rates. OS X analyzes text a paragraph at a time instead of a sentence at a time like the majority of text-to-speech systems. What this means is that OS X deciphers the context with increased accuracy. VoiceOver also matches the nuances of human speech, making it easier for people to understand the meaning of longer passages of text from articles, books, or news items.
People can control VoiceOver using gestures on a Multi-Touch trackpad. The surface of the trackpad can represent the active window on the person's computer screen, meaning they can touch to hear the item that is under their finger, drag to hear items continuously as they move their finger, and flick one finger to move to the prior or next item. A person might drag their finger around their trackpad to discover how items are arranged on a spreadsheet, web page, document, presentation, or other item with text for example.
Communicating with, 'Messages'
'Messages,' is an Internet-based audio, text, and video conferencing application that is included with Mac and provides people with the ability to interact and talk with others despite their physical distance apart. It includes something called, 'iMessage,' that gives people the ability to send messages to anyone who has a Mac or a PC. Messages works with AIM, Jabber, as well as Google Talk.
Messages has high-quality video and frame rate capabilities and is ideal for people who use sign language to communicate. It is an excellent way to take advantage of hands-on video relay services. People can clearly see the hand and finger movements of others who are participating in the conversation. Messages gives people the ability to communicate with each other from wherever they may be as if they were in the same room.
VoiceOver and, 'Activities'
Using VoiceOver, 'activities,' people have the ability to create groups of preferences for their own specific uses. As an example, a person can create an activity to use a certain voice at a particular rate of speech when they are shopping online using catalogs. The person might then create another activity to use another, different voice at a slower rate of speech when they are reading an online publication. They can change between the activities they have created manually, or choose to have VoiceOver switch automatically depending upon the application they are using.
More Hearing-Related Accessibility Features
QuickTime: With the QuickTime Player in OS X Mountain Lion, people have the ability to record sign language messages they can send as email attachments, play at a later time, or post in their online blogs. There is a menu in QuickTime Player that even gives people the ability to share their videos through YouTube or iTunes. There is a FaceTime video camera built into new MacBook and iMac computers, although people can also use a compatible desktop video conferencing camera with a Mac.
Screen Flash: A Mac computer, when it needs attention, may ask the operating system to play a sound or - it can have the computer flash the entire screen instead. Using screen flash people can be sure they get the message that their computer needs attention despite where their personal attention is focused on the screen at the moment. The fact that the beep from the computer is translated into a flash is done through OS X means that it works with every single application, which do not have to be updated or changed.
Mono Audio: Stereo recordings, unlike monaural recordings, have distinct right and left channel audio tracks. If a person is deaf or hard of hearing in one ear they might be missing some of the music or sound in one of the channels. Mountain Lion has a feature than can help by playing both right and left audio channels in right and left speakers so people do not miss anything and can enjoy the music and other sounds being presented.
Text to Speech: For people who do not use a screen reader, yet might benefit from hearing text on their computer screen spoken to them, Mountain Lion includes Text-to-Speech. Enabling Text-to-Speech can be accomplished by opening the Speech pane in System Preferences. The default key combination to start and stop speaking selected text is, 'Option-Escape,' although people can choose their own key combination.
FaceTime: With FaceTime, people have the ability to make video calls using their Mac to an iPhone 4, iPad 2, iPod Touch, iPhone 4S, or other Intel-based Mac users. They can communicate with other people using sign language without other devices. Mountain Lion comes with FaceTime, giving people the opportunity to video chat with others who have iOS devices or Mac computers in HD.
Talking Calculator: Mountain Lion includes a calculator that talks, speaking each button a person presses, as well as the results of calculations. The calculator has three different modes - a simple calculator, a programmer's calculator, and a scientific calculator.
Talking Clock: For those who desire it, a Mac computer has the ability to speak the time of day to them through its Talking Clock. The clock can speak the time automatically on the hour, half hour, quarter hour, or any time of day a person desires.
Open and Closed Captioning: Mountain Lion has support for both open and closed captioning in QuickTime Player and DVD Player. People can set the applications to display open or closed captioned content they have downloaded.
Talking Alerts: Should an application require a user's attention, Talking Alerts will automatically speak the contents of alerts and dialogs.
Accessibility Features Related to Physical and Motor Skills
Apple's Mountain Lion OS X has features to assist people with navigating their computer even if they experience difficulties with using a mouse, keyboard, or a trackpad. Using, 'Sticky Keys,' for example gives people the ability to enter key combinations by pressing them sequentially instead of simultaneously. Slow Keys helps people to avoid typing errors as well as unintended multiple keystrokes.
Mouse Keys gives people the ability to control their mouse pointer by using the keys on their numeric keypad instead of the mouse itself. For those who have an easier time using a pointing device instead of a keyboard, there is an onscreen keyboard they can use to enter text. The onscreen keyboard floats above other applications the person has open, meaning it will not be lost. It can also be displayed large or small.
Automation of Regular Tasks
People who perform routine yet complex tasks including resizing images or renaming files can have the Automator do the tasks for them, saving them uncounted numbers of mouse clicks and keystrokes. The person simply tells the Automator the actions they want it to do and the order to do them in by dragging them into a, 'workflow,' and then telling the Automator to do the tasks as many times as they want. The Automator can also record a person's actions and then do them, saving the actions to use at a later time.
Use Your Own Keyboard or Input Device
OS X supports the USB standard, meaning a person can use their favorite USB mouse or keyboard with a Mac - even if it was designed for another computer such as a PC. People can also connect an alternative input device that simulates a mouse or keyboard, or customize their keyboard layout such as Dvorak, QWERTY, or others. Through OS X, people have the ability to create their own keyboard shortcuts to work just the way they want them to.
Apple Mountain Lion OS X has so many accessibility features that one article just cannot cover them all adequately. The Apple corporation has clearly spent a great amount of time and effort thinking about and working on the accessibility features it has placed into the operating system and other software it offers. In the computer realm, Apple has very plainly taken the operating system to an entirely new level where accessibility features are involved.
"I am a blind individual who has used the Mac ever since VoiceOver became available in OS 10.4 Tiger, and I own a Mac Mini, Mac Book Pro laptop computer, and both an iPhone 4S and iPad 3rd generation."
OSX Mountain Lion Accessibility - Physical and Motor Skills
"OS X provides built-in and assistive technologies that can help you navigate your computer even if you have difficulties using the keyboard, mouse, and trackpad."
OSX Mountain Lion Accessibility - Literacy and Learning
"Users with cognitive and learning disabilities can benefit from many built-in features in OS X, including ways to simplify the Finder, provide integrated information reference tools, assist with spelling and grammar, and much more."
OSX Mountain Lion
"OS X Mountain Lion is our best OS yet. Because all these new features add up to one amazing experience on your Mac. And every device you use."