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Yo, human! – Proofreading Mac, a VoiceOver Activity: Accessing Life with Adaptive Technology

Yo, human! – Proofreading Mac, a VoiceOver Activity: Accessing Life with Adaptive Technology

Before my VoiceOver adventures began I was able to proofread my creative and technical writings quickly and easily. My constant struggle with grammar aside, I could find misspellings and punctuation errors, even capitalization and formatting issues with ease. I could quickly blast through multi-page documents in a matter of minutes. Then my longtime visual orientation completely evolved into an audible one. This presented many new challenges to overcome, including proof-reading by listening.

I explored many avenues of adaptation to help me navigate my computer before learning VoiceOver. One of the first was the Speakable Items feature of previous Mac OSs. I used AppleScript to automate many functions including sending keystrokes to the computer then changing them to spoken commands using Speakable Items. Using AppleScript’s “say” command, I even had my Mac orally responding to my spoken commands. I could say “Computer” and it would often reply with “Good guess!” However, changes in my own approach and in the OS began to make this situation less applicable. I discovered that quick verbal navigation, while helping tremendously, would not be enough. As my path towards VoiceOver progressed my need for proofing my materials became both more apparent and more of an unknown.

When the Dictation feature was introduced, I dove in thinking that this would increase my writing speeds immensely, which it did. Unfortunately, it also increased my need for proof-reading as well. I remember emailing a colleague, trying to explain some of the issues and how I had to watch for phonetically misspelled words. His somewhat humorous reply was “Fanatically misspelled words?” Case in point, I now use Dictation sporadically and mostly on iOS. However, the Dictation service definitely deserves another future look.

I could be considered a mid-speed tripod typist, poking at the keyboard with three fingers on each hand. Because of my narrowed eyesight, I had perfected my typing skills by looking at the keyboard rather than the computer screen. I took it on faith that my typing was actually appearing in my document. I only occasionally looked up to confirm what I was creating. This “writing on faith” method became inappropriate over time along with the others, but were a very good precursor to my headlong dive into VoiceOver. Throughout the several years of these methods it was becoming apparent that proof-reading by listening would be a huge part of my future.

Now after a few years of using VoiceOver exclusively I am finding several VO methods that are beginning to help. I should state that I am by no means an expert at this, I am still going through much of the learning curve myself. One of the things that I discovered was the use of VO’s Activities and using them to help me proof-read my materials. While not being a complete solution, the methods described below seem to be a good couple of additions to the process.

Activities, in General.

Activities can be created by opening the VoiceOver Utility, press Control-Option-f8. Include the fn key if working on a laptop. In the Features table near the bottom, choose Activities then exit the table and arrow to the right until you find the Activities Table. Once more to the right will land you on the ‘Add button’ where you can create a new Activity. After creating and naming an Activity exit the Activities table. Arrowing to the right again will reveal all of the VO settings that can be altered for an Activity.

In the Settings area, choose a category by marking its checkbox, then one arrow to the right to Activate the Set button. You will be presented with the same window from the default VO settings. All of the standard panes and tabs are presented, change them at will. When finished with that category, activate the default ‘Done’ button near the bottom of the window. This will apply your new settings to the currently selected Activity in the Activities Table. I will not try to relate all of the possibilities that appear as it would require more length than is appropriate for a blog post. Farther below find the custom settings that I currently use for my proofing and Reading Activity’s.

Of note, many people highly customize their default VoiceOver settings to their own preferences. When using Activities on a Mac, to the best of my knowledge, any settings designated in an Activity will over-ride those same settings of your current VO set up. Any Activity settings that are not customized will use your default VO settings. Example: I have QuickNav setup the way I like as part of my own default VO settings. When I create a new activity, I do not have to set up QuickNav in the Activity because it is already using my default VO settings for QuickNav. Using Activities is like having a temporary additional set-up while you navigate under that Activity, but everything uses your custom default VO settings unless you change them. Plus everything reverts when you switch back to your default set up.

Proofing and Reading Activities.

In general:

My proofing Activity speaks all punctuation and changes in attributions, plus announces misspelled words. It uses sound effects with spatial audio to help indicate the layout of the document. By default VO already raises pitch for capitalization and quoted text. In my default VO settings I have Intonation set in the 90s to help with this and to indicate sentence structure and paragraph flow. See the exact settings farther below.

My Reading Activity speaks no punctuation, attributions, misspellings or sound effects. It is slowed down with my chosen Voice to an audio book speed. I listen to longer documents this way while I kick back and relax. While writing, I also use it for listening to sentence and paragraph structure and to help maintain the content flow from one section to another. The VO cursor is magnified some even though I cannot see it, in case I want to record the screen while it reads one sentence at a time, making a nice “follow the bouncing ball” type presentation. These can work well for the blind and visually impaired and possibly those with reading hurdles as well. This also gives the additional opportunities for the sighted to improve their listening skills, growing comfortable with computer voices. They can read along while they listen.

I do not set my two activities for any specific app, instead I switch between them using Activity Chooser. Control-Option-X. I guess I am somewhat of a control-freak when it comes to my computer. I like to have a more direct approach over which navigation mode I am currently using and do not want it to change because I quickly switched to another app.

If you often only use two Activities, Control-Option-x-x, will switch back and forth between the current and previously chosen Activity. If you have more than two Activities, you can also move vertically through the Chooser list and press control-Option-Spacebar to activate. The Activity Chooser will always show your custom “VoiceOver default settings” as one of the choices.

The settings given below are my selected settings for each of my Activities. As I find more options that work with either one, I can add them to the existing Activities. This way they grow over time with use.

Proofing Activity:

In VoiceOver Utility>Activities, with Proofing selected in the Activities table.

Note: I am skipping over entire sections of the settings because they are features that I do not use, such as Braille. Perhaps someone with experience in these areas can provide better information. For brevity I am also skipping past settings that are being left at default, I am only showing the settings that I altered or confirmed.

Verbosity Settings:

Speech Tab:

Default Speech Verbosity: High.
Set to High for as much information as possible, without customizing.

Additional speech verbosity options, disclosure triangle.
Expand this for the custom verbosity table full of options to customize Verbosity with VoiceOver.

Text Tab:

Punctuation: All.
This is a pop-up button with various levels. I use ‘All’ so I can hear double punctuation, quotes etc.

Repeated punctuation: Always spoken.
This is a pop-up button with various amounts of repeats. My setting allows VO to always read everything.

While typing speak: Characters and words.
I like to hear certain words as a confirmation as I type.

When text attributes change: Speak attributes.
This announces changes in text styles. I found this to be a good thing to keep track of, especially for those unintentional changes.

When encountering a misspelled word: Speak attributes.
This option says “misspelled” while reading the word, it definitely catches my attention. See more about misspellings and auto-stuff in the tips section near the bottom.

When encountering a link/attachment: Speak.
This simply includes the word “Link” when one is encountered.

Read numbers as: Digits
This reads each digit of a number, which all need proofing as well.

When reading a capital letter: Speak Cap.
Cap P, Cap D, etc. Note, VO only says “Cap” when encountering a single capital letter. On capitalized words it changes pitch instead.

Announcements Tab:

I have most of these settings turned off, except for…

Announce when the Caps Lock key is pressed: Checked.
This notifies me immediately of accidental presses.

Speak header when navigating across a table row: Checked.
This helps track my position when navigating through tables.

Automatically speak text in dialog boxes: Unchecked.
This helps me retain focus on proofing, especially when it interrupts something like code. Suddenly I am proofing a warning message instead. 🙂

Speak text under mouse after delay: Unchecked.
I confirm that this is off, since my mouse cursor is mostly unused.

Hints Tab:

In this pane I turn everything off, trying to fine-tune the experience for proofing. I can make another Activity for discovering the OS at a later date.

Speak instructions for using the item in the VoiceOver cursor: Unchecked.

When an item has a help tag: Do nothing.

After completing the Verbosity settings, I move down to “additional settings to include” and expand the triangle. The only remaining settings I alter is Sound. Check the box and activate the Set button.

Sound Settings:

Mute sound effects: Unchecked.

Enable audio ducking: Unchecked.

Enable positional audio: Checked.
This helps occasionally by making sound effects from the sides of the screen where the cursor generated the sound.

Reading Activity:

Many people have their own preferences when customizing VoiceOver to their own needs. In my Reading Activity, I wanted it to sound as if someone else was reading my materials to me at a natural pace. This ended up involving turning almost everything down or off so as little extra information is relayed as possible.

To get started, I created another Activity using the Add button and named it “Reading.” In VoiceOver Utility>Activities, with Reading selected in the Activities table, the Settings area includes…

Verbosity Settings:

Speech Tab:

Default Speech Verbosity: Low.
For Reading, I only want it to speak what I typed.

Punctuation: None.
This seems to work best for relaxed listening and tracking sentence and paragraph structure.

When text attributes change: Do nothing.

Read only what was typed.

When encountering a misspelled word: Do nothing.

When encountering a link/attachment: Do nothing.

Read numbers as: Words.

When reading a capital letter: Do nothing.

Announcements Tab:

Everything in this pane is left to defaults except the following settings…

Announce when the Caps Lock key is pressed: Checked

Speak header when navigating across a table row: Unchecked.

Hints Tab:

Speak instructions for using the item in the VoiceOver cursor: Unchecked.

When an item has a help tag: Do nothing.

Additional settings to include: Expanded.
Expanding this allows for my Reading Activity to access the additional settings below.

Voices Settings:

Using the Alex voice…

Rate: set to 38.
This slows down the voice to a speed that allows for easy recognition of all consonants. It can also be a decent speed for those new to computer voices without being too fast.

Intonation: set to 95.
This changes the tonal qualities and inflections with certain types of punctuation. The inflection changes and Alex pauses when encountering a comma. The Intonation drops some at the end of a sentence when finding a period, and rises on a Question Mark. Other punctuation that only mildly effected speech now does it a bit more.

Sounds Settings:

Mute sound effects: Checked.
This prevents all VO Sound Effects from playing.

All other settings in this pane are turned off.

Visuals Settings:

VoiceOver Cursor Tab:

Show VoiceOver cursor: Checked.
This highlights the VO cursor with a boundary rectangle, making it more visible.

VoiceOver Cursor Magnification: 4.
This enlarges the item in the VO cursor as it moves.

When reading text, move VoiceOver cursor by: Sentence.
This highlights and magnifies what is being read, a sentence at a time. This option also applies to the “Read all” function of VO, Control-Option-A, which reads from the current VO cursor position to the bottom of the document.

All other options for the Visuals Settings are turned off including; Caption Panel, Braille Panel, and Touch screens. The Menus Tab is left to defaults.

Finally, with any of my Activities I leave the following setting empty.

Use this activity for: Apps & Websites.

Use this activity for: blank.
I leave this text field empty so that no amount of app switching will change my current Activity. I use the Activity Chooser to flip through my created Activities, Control-Option-X.

There you have it, my two main Activities for proofing my materials. One for punctuation and misspellings, the other for flow and structure. The Reading Activity is also set to be visually informative, in case I am using it for instructing a client or doing a screen recording.

There is much more that can go into proof-reading your materials. The use of customized Activities can help with some of the meticulous work. Activities can be created for any number of navigation modes. Which ones you create should always fit your particular needs. In the future I will probably make one for Copy and Paste methods, shutting off all extra info being stated by VO. This gives me more time to press Control-Option-Shift-C, which copies the last spoken phrase by VO. Even perhaps one for Discovery mode, where everything is set to relate maximum info, to help learn more about an interface or web page.

There seems to be only scattered information online about proof-reading with a screen-reader. One of the more complete findings is below.

A good resource for basic proof-reading with JAWS, NVDA and VoiceOver:

Tips for Writing and Proofing:

You can use Command-; (semi-colon), to jump to the next misspelled word. To get a list of suggestions, press Control-Option-Shift-M, to pop up the contextual menu then arrow down through the list. Note: this does not move the VO cursor to the word, making it hard to check it in context.

Try using the VO key press; Control-Option-Command-E to find the next misspelling. Use Control-Option-Command-Shift-E to find the previous one. This method does move the VO cursor into place.

I don’t like auto-stuff happening while I type or proof-read, perhaps my inner control freak is showing again. I like to maintain a manual control over things, though I am possibly missing some great features. Currently I turn off the following features:

In Keyboard Preferences>Text Tab, I turn off the following options; Correct spelling automatically, Capitalize words automatically, Add period with double-space, Use smart quotes and dashes.

This set-up prevents anything from changing or popping up and becoming a distraction.

You can change the Verbosity levels on the fly by pressing, Control-Option-v. Then hold down Control-Option and use the right and left arrows to flip through the Verbosity settings. Use up and down arrows to increase or decrease each setting. Press Control-Option-Spacebar to confirm your changes and return to normal navigation.

You can adjust the Speech settings by holding down, Control-Option-Command and use the arrow keys in the same fashion as above. Let go of every key when done, to return to normal navigation.

Customizing VoiceOver on Mac. Activities are described near the bottom of this Apple guide on customizing VoiceOver

Apple’s Support page for Activities:

An older but still relevant podcast by one of our own: Mac Basics #23: Creating and Using VoiceOver Activities, by David Woodbridge

A descriptive reminder that all of our cool digital stuff that we work with, play with and enjoy, is all about “Living.” Live well!

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