Harry Cresswell

Accessibility check your writing on macOS

Your macOS machine will read any document out loud to you. Did you know that? Until only a few weeks ago, I honestly had no idea about most of the accessibility features Mac ships with.

I found myself watching Molly Burke, a partially sighted Youtuber, explain how she uses her laptop on a daily basis. Molly, like many, depends on a screen reader and accessibility features to do simple things that most of us take for granted, like surfing the internet.

Not long after that I heard Amruta Ranade mention a macOS tool called ”text to speech” in her video on The four-drafts method. In short, Amruta uses Text to Speech to listen for any awkward phrasing or weird sentence structure in her writing.

This totally blew my mind. Why wasn’t I doing this? After giving it some thought, I had one of those real ”ahah” moments.

It went something like this:

If your writing doesn’t make sense when you hear it read by a screen reader, then it’s simply not accessible to everyone.

Now I’ve written it down it seems kinda obvious. But I’m ashamed to say it something I’ve failed to appreciate until very recently. I’m sure I’m not the only one either.

So I want to show you how to change that.

Text to Speech is super easy to set up. You don’t need to install any fancy software, you just need to be a Mac user running Mac Sierra or above.

Setting up Text to Speech #

Here’s the 5 steps to setting up Text to Speech on your Mac, so you can cross check your writing with accessibility in mind, and make sure it’s easy to read for as many people as possible.

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Click Accessibility
  3. Now select Speech from the left panel
  4. Check the box that says Speak selected text when the key is pressed

Default key should be set to Option+Esc.

Now you can select the text you want macOS to read back to you, and press Option + Esc to activate.

That’s it. You should now here you text read back to you.

This should work pretty much with any text you select. Whether you’re using a writing app or in a browser, it works the same.

Customising your reader voice #

There are a ton of different system voices to choose from. Just head back to the Speech panel and choose a new one from the system voice select options.

If you’re not happy with the installed choices, then select customize in the dropdown list and download a new one based on your prefered country and accent.

It’s a good bit of fun listening to all the different voices and finding one you like.

As a native English speaker, the English voice feels a bit too robotic for my liking. I guess I know it too well. So I usually stick with an accent I’m less familiar with, as it feels a bit more natural.

Right now my favourite is Scottish Fiona. But you might find Chinese Ting-Ting or Danish Magnus more to your liking.

Customising speaking rate #

To change the speed of your speaker voice, you will find a slider where you can adjust the speaking rate from slow to fast.

To me, some voices feel much slower than others, so I find myself adjusting the speed accordingly, depending on which voice I choose.

As you get more familiar with your chosen voice, no doubt you’ll want to speed things up a bit.

Ok, that’s all from me for now. Go have some fun with it.

Resources #

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