Mac Accessibility

The MacOS offers many accessibility features for users with a variety of disabilities. These features are built-in and do not require additional purchase nor activation. Furthermore, the accessibility features have been designed to appear and operate similarly to accessibility feature on an iPad or an iPhone. Therefore, users of one Apple device will likely be familiar with features on a different device. Due to the way in which an iPad works, some iPad features will not appear on a Mac computer.

To access Accessibility tools, click on the Apple icon in the top left hand corner of the screen and select System Preferences. Select the Accessibility icon.

Screenshot of System Preferences.  Accessibility icon is located at the end of the fourth row

Accessibility features on a Mac are divided into three main categories: Vision, Hearing and Mobility Supports.

Vision Supports

VoiceOver supports users with vision impairments by providing an oral description of the screen. Users who may struggle or be unable to see the display will likely benefit through the use of a screen reader. VoiceOver is not a static tool but rather tracks the users cursor movements and describes it in real time allowing users to navigate the screen even if they can't see it.

Zoom is a feature that magnifies the screen using either shortcut keys or a gesture with a modifier key. The Zoom feature can be customized through an options menu.


The display on a Mac computer can be customized in various ways within the Display section in Accessibility features. These customizations include:

  • inverting colours (for better contrast)

  • use grayscale

  • differentiate without colour

  • reducing motion

  • increasing contrast

  • reducing transparency

  • customizing the contrast level

  • contrasting the cursor size

  • shaking the mouse to locate the cursor (cursor increases in size)


The speech section in the Accessibility features is not in and of itself a support but a component of many supports such as the voice used in VoiceOver or in Siri. The speech section provides some level of control over the speech including the voice that is used, the rate of speech, the option to announce alerts, or speaking selected text with the push of a shortcut key.

Audio Descriptions

Similar to VoiceOver, audio descriptions provides spoken feedback to visual content in media. This feature is only available when the author or creator of the video incorporates and embeds these supports within the video.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Supports


The captions feature provides written support for users who may have hearing impairments. Turning on this option will allow supported media to display subtitles. There are additional options to customize the appearance of the subtitles from three preset styles or the ability to create a customized appearance.


Audio preferences on a Mac can be tweaked to support users with hearing impairments. Options include:

  • presenting a visual alert (flashing the screen) to indicate an alert instead of the use of a sound

  • playing stereo as mono (the sound is the same instead of having separate right and left tracks)

Physical Access Supports


For users with fine or gross motor impairments, using a keyboard may present particular difficulties. In addition to specific supports for users who prefer or need to use a keyboard, there is also the option to use speech to text technology to input text. Dictation settings are found in two locations: as a tab under Keyboard in System Preferences as well as in Accessibility.

Dictation by default relies on an external server hosted by Apple to process speech into text. As such, an internet connection is required in order for this processing to occur. Users should also be aware that anything that is spoken can potentially be compromised and may not be secure. For users who may require dictation at times when internet is not available, an offline option is available called enhanced dictation.

Dictation can be activated through a keyboard press (by default function key twice. Well dictating, it is also possible to insert punctuation by saying the name of the punctuation desired. Dictation works in a variety of languages and is changed by altering the language in System Preferences.

Finally, dictation can also be used to control basic functions on the computer. For users with extremely limited mobility, a dictation phrase can be set to activate the dictation service. A list of possible dictation commands is found here. It is also possible to create custom commands that can be integrated with the dictation module.


Siri is Apple's artificial intelligence assistant similar to Cortana on Microsoft, Google Assistant or Alexa on Amazon's Echo. Siri is integrated into many Apple services on many devices including the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. Although the Siri engine on the Mac is very similar to that on iOS devices, the activation feature is not as versatile. Whereas on an iOS device, Siri can be activated simply by saying "hey Siri", an icon or key press is required on a Mac (Command + Space).

Siri can support users with limited mobility by replacing typing with voice interaction. Users can ask Siri almost limitless questions and ask Siri to perform a variety of functions including opening an App, searching for a file, setting a timer or completing a mathematical equation. A sample list of Siri commands can be found here.

If you have been paying careful attention and reading this section thoroughly, you may have wondered if it is possible to create a dictation command (as discussed in the previous section) to open Siri. The answer is yes (although results are not always consistent). A tutorial of how to do this is found here.

Accessible Keyboard

Not all users have the physical abilities to use a keyboard. MacOS provides an on-screen keyboard that can be used with a mouse, trackpad or with alternate access systems such as EyeGaze or a Camera Mouse. The on-screen keyboard is highly versatile and customizable. Additional configuration includes adding audio feedback, pulling up the keyboard with a hot corner shortcut, or dwell options to prevent accidental entering of a key.

Keyboard Options

The physical keyboard can also be optimized for user preferences. Some users may be able to utilize a keyboard but may get inconsistent results due to conditions that result in hand shakiness, inability to target a key accurately or behaviours that result in the key being pushed down too long. All of these behaviours can result in erratic text output which can be corrected by modifying the response of the keyboard in the Keyboard section of the Accessibility features. These options include:

  • Sticky keys (ability to press multiple keys without having to hold down one key while pushing another)

  • Slow keys adjusts the period of time a key must be depressed in order for it to be recognized by the computer. Setting a longer time means that a longer keypress is less likely to be misinterpreted as a repeated keystroke.

Mouse and Trackpad

The mouse and trackpad can also be adapted for users with physical disabilities. Mouse movement can be emulated using key strokes (using the numerical keyboard pad). The mouse can also be adjusted in its double click speed and spring-loading delay (opens a folder automatically after a specified time when the cursor is hovering over it). Similar to both the trackpad and the mouse, the scrolling speed can be set using a slider bar. The trackpad has the additional option of enabling scrolling with inertia which means that a long scroll bar will continue scrolling after a swipe up or down has been initiated much like a car continues to roll after the foot is taken off the gas pedal. Additional mouse and trackpad options are also available in their respective sections in System Preferences.

Voice Control (Announced June 2019 for new iPadOS ecosystem)

This feature will allow users to control their computer using their voice.

Switch control is the ability to control the Mac computer using a switch. Although there are many forms of switches, the premise is the same regardless of the type. Switches essentially turn things on and off much like a light switch turns a light on or off depending on its position. Switches come in many shapes and sizes and can be activated by different parts of the body including finger, hand, foot, or head. Essentially, whichever part of the body has the greatest mobility is the one that will be used to activate the switch. It is possible for users to control the computer using a single switch but it is also possible to integrate multiple switches which often makes the process easier.

In order for switches to be used with a Mac computer, a switch controller must act as an intermediary between the switch and the computer. The switch box is plugged into the computer using a USB plug and switches are plugged into the controller using a 3.5mm jack similar to the audio jack found on a pair of headphones. The switch controller determines the signal that is interpreted by the computer (typically as the equivalent of a keyboard press). Some switches are wireless in which case no controller box is required but connects to the computer using Bluetooth instead.

Switch control is the software end of things that is required to translate the switch press and turn it into an action.