Recommended VoiceOver Mac Settings
for a Person with Dyslexia
by Mike Matvy, 10/31/16


How do we get rid of the extraneous speech from VoiceOver (VO) on the Mac?

VoiceOver is a remarkable screen reader on the Mac/IPad/iPod/iPhone. It gives those of us with print disabilities (perceptual, physical, and visual limitations) access to the print and graphical information we all need to stay connected and make full use of the new technologies. Users have different needs for support, and VoiceOver let users choose a set of features to fit their individual needs. Users with limited vision or no vision can use the graphical information and, amazingly, navigate and make full use of their devices, in some cases with the screens turned off. However, for those of us who have dyslexia or low vision and use the mouse and our vision to navigate, hearing all the graphical information is problematic. Many of these speech features built into voiceover are, at best, of no use and distracting, and, at worst, disruptive of the thought process and a barrier to making use of VoiceOver. There are a number of setting options in VoiceOver Utilities that will decrease the amount of unwanted speech.

Here are four things you can do to decrease the amount of unwanted speech:

(1) Go to VO Utilities > Speech and see the six categories where VO speaks text , Default, Content, Status, Type, Attributes, and VoiceOver Menu.
(On some of the older versions if VO you must turn down the triangle and see the other speech categories, like in Figure 1.)

The main category of voice feedback that we use is Content. What we need to be able to do is turn off all the other categories , but this can’t be done.

The workaround is to raise the volume on Content and lower the volume on all other categories of speech. With the volume of a category set to 1 the user will not hear the speech from menu items, page attributes, etc. See Figure 1. This unwanted speech will still be happening and sometimes delaying VO’s voicing of Content, so there’s another workaround to minimize those delays — increasing the speech rate to 100 on the unwanted categories and setting the voice to Fred. Fred is the original voice and it requires less processing to produce it.

An exception I use is to leave the volume for Default somewhere between 6 and 12, because occasionally on some pages print I want to read is not voiced using Content but is voiced using Default. When I recognize I am in one of those situations where I need to hear the Default voice I increase the volume so I can understand the reading of that text.

Figure 1

F 1 VO Speech Settings 

(2) VO Utilities > Verbosity > Speech > Set “Default Speech Verbosity” to low

Figure 2

F 2 Text verbosity

(3) VO Utilities > Navigation > deselect all items and set “Mouse pointer:” = “Ignore VoiceOver cursor”. See Figure 3.

Figure 3

F 3 Ignore voiceover cursor

(4) VO Utilities > Verbosity > Try these settings.

Figure 4

F 4Text verbosity


What is an easier way to turn VoiceOver on and off?

Reassign “Command - F5” to “Control - a”
The keyboard shortcut for toggling VoiceOver on and off is “Command - F5”. This command is difficult to use with one hand. Since it's convenient to turn voiceover on and off frequently, it is recommended that the keyboard shortcut be changed to “Control - a”, so the command can be given quickly and easily with one hand.
Q: How do I reassign that keyboard shortcut for VoiceOver?
(1) Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Accessibility.
(2) See: “Turn VoiceOver on and off”.
(3) Click twice on the current keyboard shortcut,Com F5s, to get an editable text field.
(4) Use the keyboard and type "Control" and “a” or “Control-a”, and see Cntr as as the new shortcut.
(5) Try out the new shortcut, “Control-a” to be sure that it works.
Note: you could also try some other keyboard shortcuts if you think they would work better for you.

Figure 5

F 5 Change VO shortcut from Com to F5

Figure 6 

F 6 Change VO shortcut to Cmd a