Review by Ericka D, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2017


Mac screen reader provides access for students with visual impairments

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Free, works smoothly with Apple's programs, and has good help options.

Cons: Learning the program well can be a complex process.

Bottom Line: A screen reader that rewards training with access to today's digital world.

The goal for all teachers and students should be complete independence in VoiceOver, so that students who have visual impairments can access the computer in much the same way as their peers do. For students just getting started, begin with a very basic subset of commands, like listening to, and navigating within, a short story that's already on-screen. Staying a step or two ahead of your students can help them pick up new skills without some of the frustration that comes with trial and error.

​As you encourage your students toward fluency, independence, and equity with peers, give support by working with them to customize some of the navigation commands and preferences. Encourage kids to learn one or two new commands a day until they're proficient enough to want to progress faster, eventually learning new commands on their own.

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VoiceOver enables a student with a severe visual impairment or blindness to use a Mac computer and most of the applications that run on it. As a screen reader, VoiceOver "talks" to the user, interpreting links, icons, menus, and other content that appears on the screen. It can also be used with refreshable Braille displays.

Students must learn to use the program's commands in order to successfully navigate and hear on-screen content. While some commands are quite basic, others require more practice to learn. Help is available in the form of online audio tutorials and built-in help screens. Included as part of the OS X operating system, this utility can allow students with visual impairments access to content that wasn't previously available.

VoiceOver is a solid, free text-to-speech tool that offers access to the Mac for those with blindness or reading difficulties. Because it's a part of the Mac operating system, it works very smoothly with all of Apple's programs, but it's also compatible with an increasing number of third-party applications. Some of the keyboard commands are complex, and there are a lot of them to memorize, but there are excellent built-in tutorials and help options.

Basic commands can be learned fairly quickly by children as young as 8. Use of all the commands, however, is somewhat complex and requires memorization of keystroke combinations. Once students master the basics, they can move on to more complex functions as their needs require. There's a lot of motivation to learn quickly, as the digital world begins to open up to kids who haven't been able to experience it before.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

There's some training required to get started, but most kids become engaged and excited once they begin to experience success.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids will have to persevere as they memorize commands, but they'll be very empowered by their new ability to navigate a computer.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Support is available in the form of audio tutorials and voiced help screens, although it may take time to navigate.

Common Sense Reviewer
Ericka D Counselor, psychologist, or social worker

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
David H. C. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Out of the box accessibility for blind users for the Mac
Blind users always had to learn complex keystroke commands to access the computer with screen reading software. VoiceOver is no more complex than JAWs or WindowEyes and students have little difficulty transferring their skills between the software, much like they tend to be platform independent and easily switch between Macs and PCs. While there are a number of major applications that are not VoiceOver compatible (Microsoft Office - I'm looking at you), there are enough alternative applications that do work to make this "oversight" by the developer (and it is the application developer who chooses not to include the VoiceOver compatibility, not Apple) negligible. In fact, Apple's iLife suite, which also comes with new Macs at no additional charge, is incredibly compatible with MS Office formatted documents - able to open, edit, and save in the pretty much universally used .docx, .xlsx, and. pptx formats. VoiceOver also connects with Bluetooth Braille displays pretty much seamlessly. In very few cases have I found there to be any glitch in pairing and using the Braille display in minutes. JAWs and Windows require driver downloads and installation and still can take hours to get a reliable connection via Bluetooth. The common complaint that "Macs are more expensive" is pretty much shot down when you realize that for a blind user, the initial purchase cost doesn't include the extra $1000 they will need for a screen reader plus the cost of Office (rarely included in the lower cost PCs). All this is built in to that "higher" cost of the Mac as is the advantage of being able to go right out of the box.
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