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Testing for Accessibility with VoiceOver

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VoiceOver is the name of the screen reader software that comes with every Apple device. Today we will have an overview of how to use Voiceover to test for accessibility on your Mac desktop.

Some Background

Let's do a quick review on how a screen reader user interacts and navigates your website. The main ways a person navigates is by reviewing your site's headings, links, and regions (also called landmarks). This method is the most efficient way to browse your site, as opposed to having the screen reader read through the page from top to bottom.

VoiceOver is one of the top screen reader softwares used by individuals who are blind. If available, you should also be testing with Jaws and NVDA. NVDA is a free option, while Jaws is the popular paid version.

Testing with Voiceover

On your Mac, turn on VoiceOver using the command CMD + F5. If VoiceOver is speaking too fast for you, you can slow down the speed by going to your Settings> Acessibility> VoiceOver> Open Voiceover Utility> Speech > Rate. The standard rate is around 45, but you can increase or decrease based on your specific needs.

On your website, or page you need to test with, activate the Web Rotor with CTRL + Option + U.  It should look something like this.

Screenshot of VoiceOver Web Rotor

Navigate the Links list, Headings list, and the Landmarks list to ensure that everything is appearing correctly. Here are some navigation commands that you can play with:

Arrow Keys <- and -> to change panes in the Web Rotor

Enter key to move VoiceOver focus to item from the Web Rotor

CTRL + Option + Spacebar to activate a link, button, or element

CTRL + Option + Arrow Keys to explore content 

CTRL + Option + CMD + H to move forward by Heading

CTRL + Option + CMD + Shift+ H to move backward by Heading

CTRL + Option + W to have a word spelled out

CMD + L to navigate to the address bar

What You Want to See in the Web Rotor

You want to make sure that all of your headings and links are easy to understand and tagged correctly. Remember, if you can't navigate your own website with your eyes closed, it needs some work. If you don't see anything wrong, let's move on to testing your elements. 


Let's begin with any forms on your website; this is one of the most significant issues we see here at CommonAccess. The forms you are interacting with should tell you exactly what is expected or needed from the user. If it doesn't, you need to fix that. Once that is fixed, test the CAPTCHA. Can you activate the CAPTCHA and complete it without using your mouse and with your eyes closed? If you can, pat yourself on the back; we almost never see that.

Wrapping Up

Now that we've hit the highlights for testing with VoiceOver, you can begin testing with other major screenreaders found on the market. In 2018, the top screenreaders found on the market NVDA, Jaws, and VoiceOver. They all interact with your website similarly, but not 100% the same. Put in the time to test for accessibility now to "future-proof" your site later. 



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