Enabling Technologies (Part 2): Mac OS

Continuing our series of articles exploring some of the useful features available on the devices we own, Robert McLaren from Diversity and Ability (https://www.dnamatters.co.uk) draws our attention to some of those offered on a Mac. The images and location of features referred to are based upon those found within Mac OS Sierra. However, these may appear in different locations of System Preferences depending upon the version you use.


Text-to -speech can be a great tool for proofreading your own writing or reading from websites or PDFs. Macs have this feature built into their operating system. It enables most text to be read out loud by the computer. Once the feature is set up, the user can select some text in (almost) any program and then press a key combination to hear the text vocalised. Note: this does not work in Adobe Reader but does in Preview.

To set up the feature: go to ‘System Preferences’ then ‘Accessibility’, then ‘Speech’.

Mac accessibility menu

On this screen, you can check the box for ‘Speak selected text when the key is pressed’. You can also select a choice of voice and how fast it will read. If you use the feature regularly, then it may be worth buying an additional voice: I use Cereproc Jess which costs £25.99 (www.cereproc.com ). By default, the key combination to speak the selected text is ‘Alt and Esc’ but you can change this by clicking ‘Change key…’


The inbuilt dictation feature writes the words you speak. It works in any text editor, from desktop programs such as Word, to websites, including Facebook and Gmail. The dictation is not always completely accurate. Sometimes it will write something that sounds similar to the words you have spoken and it is best to sound the end of words clearly for good results. However, it can be a good way to produce text without spelling errors, and you can use the text-to-speech feature to check for any inaccuracies. To use the feature: just place the cursor where you want to write and press the key combination (by default this is set as a double tap of the Fn key). This feature also allows you to perform some other computer tasks using your voice e.g. you can say ‘underline that’ to underline the selected text.

To set up the feature: go to System Preferences, then ‘Keyboard’, then ‘Dictation’ and choose the ‘On’ option.

Mac dictation settings dialog.

It is also a good idea to check the box for ‘Enhanced Dictation’, which allows you to use the feature even when you are offline.  Please note to set this up you will need to be online and it may take up to 25 minutes to complete. You can change the key combination to use the feature by clicking the menu ‘shortcut’. To see a list all the commands you can use (and unlock and add more advanced ones) go to ‘System Preferences’, then ‘Accessibility’ and click ‘Dictation Commands’.

Mac dictation commands dialog.

Popup Dictionary and Thesaurus

This feature allows you to select a word and then see a pop up window with the definitions and synonyms. It can be really helpful for proofreading because it lets you check for so called ‘word confusion errors’. This means that you can check if the word you have written really is the one you meant to write, and not a similar looking word. As an example: if you meant to write ‘whether or not…’ but actually wrote ‘weather or not…’, you will see the error when the definition of the word ‘weather’ shows: ‘the state of the atmosphere…’. Popup is also useful for looking up words you are reading or checking for an appropriate synonym to avoid repeating the same word too often in your writing.

This feature is set up by default. There are two ways to use the feature. One is to select the word and press Control and Command D together. Another is to use Force Click. This method of activating the popup is only available on a Mac with a Force Touch trackpad (i.e. post-2014 MacBook Pro and MacBook; not MacBook Air). If you have a Force Touch trackpad you can rest the mouse pointer over the word and then press down firmly on the trackpad.

Mac trackpad dialog.

Add Auto Corrections

You can also set up a list of Auto Corrections. This means that when you type one string of letters it will automatically change to another: e.g. ‘experement’ can be set to auto correct to ‘experiment’. This can be useful if you find that you consistently misspell the same small group of words. The feature can also be used to save time because you can set an auto correction from an acronym to a full phrase, e.g. ‘coa’ could correct to ‘Catherine of Aragon’.

Mac dialog for adding auto-corrections.

To set up the feature: Go to ‘System Preferences’, then Keyboard’, then ‘Text’. Click the plus icon to add new auto corrections.

Other useful features can be found in an extended version of this article published on the BDANTC website: http://www.bdatech.org


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