The Ministry of Testing has declared that May should be “30 Days of Accessibility Testing“. As in the days of yore when I used to take on these challenges and blog regularly, I’m in the mood to get back to doing that. Therefore, I am looking to write a post every day around this topic and as a way to address each line of their checklist.

Day 10. Let’s do this.

10. Test with a screen reader and share one useful tip.

Most of my day to day work the past few years has been done on a series of MacBook Pro devices. I use PCs in our test lab and I have an embarrassingly old Windows laptop that runs Windows 7 still for testing old stuff, but I use a Mac for 90% of my day to day stuff. Therefore, I utilize VoiceOver as my go to screen reader. My company uses JAWS as a commercial screen reader tool, and NVDA is a free screen reader for Windows. Since I’m dialed in for Mac at the moment, this tip is going to be about VoiceOver. At a later time, I will do some side by side comparisons of other screen readers for other platforms.

Apple has a pretty good tutorial/guide for using VoiceOver on their site, but I want to highlight a feature that I think is pretty helpful, and that’s VO key locking. VO is a shorthand for the VoiceOver Modifier. By default, VO is the [control] and [option] keys pressed together. Thus, when you see reference to commands like “VO+h“, that’s simply “[control]+[option]+h“. This command opens up the VoiceOver Help menu.

By typing “VO-;“, you can lock the VO Modifier keys. This means that you can enter VoiceOver key commands without having to press the VO combination while it is turned on.

With the locking on, if I want to open the help menu again, now all I have to do is type “h“.

By entering the same command, “VO-;” we can unlock the modifier.

It’s a simple trick, and if you are used to the VO combinations, maybe not something you need, but I find it nice when I’m actively interacting with the screen reader to not have to use multiple key combinations each time.

BONUS TIP: This is a totally tangential use of VoiceOver, but you can use it as a “proofreader” for anything you type. We have a tendency to skip over our own typos, as well as grammatical lapses, but VoieOver will read through it with a steely resolve, and misspelled words jump out, as well as clunky grammar. Also, if you are curious as to whether or not you are using “semantic bleaching” with your writing, VoiceOver makes it painfully obvious, like superabundantly obvious ;).

Anyway, go forth, play with VoiceOver, have some fun with it. who knows you might find some interesting uses outside of its intended purpose.