Home > UDL and Accessibility > To Know VoiceOver: Notes from the December 10th Webinar

To Know VoiceOver: Notes from the December 10th Webinar

Wordle image of terms from informal transcription of webinar

Wordle of informal webinar transcription

Thanks to all who participated in last Thursday’s webinar, “Getting to Know VoiceOver.” Steve Sawczyn of AT Maine was our guest and provided a basic, albeit truly stellar, overview of VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader for Macs. More importantly, he gave us numerous take-aways for being better educators of all learners, including students who are blind or have low vision.

In Steve’s introduction, he explained that he’s been blind since birth and started using Apple computers in the 3rd grade when his teacher got a grant. In his own educational experience, the greatest barrier to learning has been access to information. Having to wait for materials to become available in alternative formats (i.e., purchased, converted, or transcribed), greatly disadvantages students with print disabilities. What has been the greatest contributor to access to learning? Steve cites technology from an early age as playing a large role in successful learning experiences. Even more important has been the ability to read Braille. He describes it as a “gift” he was given at an early age. He states, “It’s one thing to listen to text, such as by speech synthesizer or book in audio format, but another thing is to be able to read it in a way that you know what the punctuation is, understand the conceptual layout, flow of paragraphs…subtle things are lost in the translation to any audio format.”

Some anecdotes about *VoiceOver (VO)

  • VO is “integrated.” That is, every Mac (Tiger and newer) has VO built in. You don’t need to install, download, or configure anything. It’s just there.
  • In the past, Steve’s experience was to use “special workstations” or computers adapted with assistive technology for users with disabilities. Today, he can use any Mac, from his childrens’ laptops to trying out new devices at the Apple Store (a favorite pastime, apparently).
  • VO- and non VO-users can collaborate because it is designed to be an accessible interface for everyone. The caption panel displays in text everything that VO is speaking aloud. VO can be used by sighted users with the mouse and trackpad and by VO-users via keyboard shortcuts and commands. This is due to the VO cursor, which allows control of what the user wants to access on the screen. As Steve explains, “Similar to the way a sighted user chooses to focus on specific content, VO gives me a conceptual overview of what is on the screen, and I can jump right to the area of interest. In other words, with VO you learn to use applications as a blind user the same way you would as a sighted user.”
  • Braille devices are compatible with VO. For example, students who use refreshable Braille displays can connect their devices to their MLTI laptops and VO will produce output.

In summary, Steve convinced us that VoiceOver is a tool to improve opportunities for students with blindness and low vision to have the same access to instructional materials – and at the same time – as their peers. His hope is that all educators understand, even though they may not know how to use tools like VoiceOver, these supports exist to allow them to fully integrate students who are blind into the curriculum.

Steve can be reached at steve@atmaine.com

Sites shared during the webinar

AT Maine

VoiceOver in Depth

Apple Accessibility

Woopid video tutorial

Mac-cessibility Network

*Our coverage of VoiceOver is specific to Mac OS X Leopard, which is on the MLTI laptops.

  1. December 15th, 2009 at 10:58 | #1

    You should also know that the Maine AIM (Accessible Instructional Materials) Project has developed a website which provides information and lots of resources about students with Print Disabilities.

    A Print Disability is…
    “A condition related to blindness, visual impairment, specific learning disability or other physical condition in which the student needs an alternative or specialized format (i.e., Braille, Large Print, Audio, Digital text) in order to access and gain information from conventional printed materials.”

    http://aim.mainecite.org/

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