Like all screen readers, VoiceOver provides access to blind and visually impaired persons by using text-to-speech to read what's onscreen, reiterate typed commands, and provide keyboard shortcuts to make application and web page navigation easier.
Unlike most popular screen readers such as JAWS for Windows, VoiceOver isn't an application that's purchased and installed separately, but rather is built into Apple's desktop (OS X) and mobile (iOS) operating systems.
Many VoiceOver functions are designed to translate traditional keyboard commands into direct interaction with items on a touchscreen. Tactile access orients blind users to a screen's visual layout, approximating what sighted users experiences when using a mobile device.
Blind iPhone users hear descriptions of any onscreen element their fingers touch. They can then gesture (e.g. double tap, drag, or flick) to open the app or navigate to another screen.
On websites, blind persons can touch any part of a page and hear what's there. Traditional screen readers provide more linear navigation among page elements (e.g. headings, links) using keyboard commands.
With VoiceOver, blind users navigate websites by moving a finger around the screen, then gesturing to execute commands, such as double-tapping to click on a link.
What Information Does VoiceOver Speak Aloud?
VoiceOver provides descriptions of every item on a screen. This includes app names, status information such as battery level and Wi-Fi signal strength, and time of day.
When you select text, VoiceOver reads the text automatically.
When typing text, VoiceOver speaks each character you touch, and repeats it when you press the key to enter it. You can also have VoiceOver speak each completed word.
VoiceOver uses sound effects to confirm actions such as when an app opens or is finished downloading. VoiceOver sounds when you access a new screen and automatically selects and speaks the first element it encounters, usually the item in the upper-left corner.
VoiceOver also tells whether a mobile device's display is in landscape or portrait mode, whether the screen is locked or unlocked, and enables users of Bluetooth keyboards such as the BraillePen to control their iOS device touch without touching the screen.
VoiceOver has an adjustable speaking rate and automatically dips background sounds (e.g. music) when it talks.VoiceOver's built-in voices speak 36 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English (in Australian, British, Irish, South African, and US dialects), and Spanish (Latinate and Castilian).
How Do I Activate and Use VoiceOver?
VoiceOver is built into Mac OS X and iOS products. To use VoiceOver on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, you must have a Mac or PC with a USB port, iTunes 10.5 or later, an Apple ID, and an Internet and Wi-Fi connection.
To activate VoiceOver on a Mac machine, open "System Preferences" and click the Universal Access icon. VoiceOver should be the top choice in the dialog box. Select "On."
On mobile devices, click the "Settings" icon on the Home screen. Accessibility is located under the "General" menu.
To use VoiceOver once it's activated, touch the screen or drag your fingers across it to hear item names spoken aloud.
Tap an element to select it. A black box -- the VoiceOver cursor -- encloses the icon and tells you its name or provides a description. The cursor can aid low-vision users in confirming their selections
For privacy, VoiceOver includes a screen curtain that turns off the visual display.
You can move the VoiceOver Cursor to the next or previous item on the screen by flicking.
VoiceOver works with all built-in applications such as Music, iTunes, Mail, Safari, and Maps, and with most third-party applications.
Helpful Hints for Using VoiceOver
Turn on "Speak Hints" to have VoiceOver speak additional instructions on apps or features you encounter.
Use the "Practice Gestures" setting on iOS devices to find out what each gesture does, learn new ones, and hone your technique.
Enable Speak Auto-Text (in "Accessibility" settings) to activate word prediction -- a feature that reduces keystrokes while typing.