If you are a Mac user and your vision requires you to increase the magnification or fiddle with colors in order to see what’s on your computer screen, I’ve got some exciting news for you. We just released the ZoomText Mac screen magnifying software and our Apple large print keyboard. These tools are of great benefit to the low vision Mac user, and I can attest to this from personal experience. As you may know, the Mac comes with a built-in screen magnifier called Zoom. In order to get a baseline comparison, I used Zoom on my new Mac Mini for a week before trying ZoomText. I carried the Mac Mini from home, where I have a 24-inch monitor (not a retina display*), then to work, to plug into my 22-inch Acer flat screen monitor. As a new Mac user, I wanted to see how to get the most from the accessibility options already included on the machine.
Preferring white text on a black background, I experimented with Zoom’s “invert color” option as well as the different contrast settings. In order to make the mouse pointer more visible, I increased the pointer to its maximum size…unfortunately, the largest size was still hard for me to follow. I didn’t like how the screen responded to my mouse movements, so I tried all three screen movement options. I observed text in many different apps using different magnification levels; I saw how the text became increasingly harder to read, instead of easier, as the magnification increased. I typed in all the native apps, such as Mail, TextEditor, and Safari to see if the screen moved along with me as I typed (cursor tracking). It did not.
After a week, I had enough of Zoom and set all the visual accessibility features back to their default settings and disabled the Zoom shortcut keys. I then installed ZoomText Mac to see what I’d gain – turns out, it’s like apples (pardon the pun) and oranges.
The first thing I noticed was how the screen moved around in response to my moving the pointer. The screen responded more naturally when I moved my mouse to look at a different part of my magnified view. I was not only able to increase the size of the mouse pointer more so than with the built-in accessibility options, but I could change the pointer color as well! I chose red, making it visible on almost any background color. For increased visibility of the blinking text cursor, I turned on the cursor enhancement to blue wedge. Now there were colorful triangles above and below the pesky blinking cursor, enabling me to easily pick it out of a crowd. Unlike with the built-in Zoom, the screen now moves along automatically as I type an email (cursor tracking) in the Mail app or create a document in the TextEdit or Pages app **. Now the cursor always stays in view while I’m typing and doesn’t go into never-never land off screen.
Next, I tried the different color schemes included in ZoomText and settled on “Reverse video”. When I’m reading an email or text document, I’ll be able to see it using the more comfortable white text on a black background. And there’s a handy shortcut key (Command + Option + \) so I can easily toggle back to normal colors when I’m looking at photographs or watching a video. The quality of text magnification and contrast is better across the board compared with the built-in Zoom, making for less eyestrain. And though ZoomText Mac does not “replace” the text with xFont technology like it does with ZoomText Windows (something that’s just not possible on the Mac side), the quality of the magnified text is much better than the Mac’s built-in Zoom, plus it does not degrade as you increase the magnification level.
What about the pictures? Magnifying photos at any level is far superior to the built-in Zoom. ZoomText Mac actually ‘sharpens’ images, making photos more realistic and pleasurable to view.
If you’re like me and trying to become less mouse dependent, you’ll appreciate our new large print keyboard for the Mac – a sleek, full-sized keyboard with your choice of three high-contrast color combinations – black text on white keys, black text on yellow keys, or white text on black keys. I think this is my favorite keyboard ever. It’s a wired keyboard, but like Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard, the keys are physically separated from each other, making for a more comfortable typing experience. There are just a few intuitive shortcut keys to quickly manipulate ZoomText features, so the extra “feature keys” and software that we have for our ZoomText Large-Print keyboard on the PC just aren’t needed.
Since I think it would be more productive for me to use speech for certain tasks instead of relying solely on magnification, I also had to make sure that the Mac’s included VoiceOver screen reader would work for me since ZoomText Mac currently has no speech features. Those of us who are still somewhat visual tend to be a bit more particular about what voice is jabbering at us. I find the voice “Alex” satisfactory and although I’m still finding my way around the Mac and learning the VoiceOver commands, it is all starting to come together.
I’m not here to convince anyone to change from a Windows PC to a Mac. There are a lot of things to consider, including what applications you need to use. And if you are accustomed to the “Windows Classic” appearance themes and the ability to manipulate particular colors and fonts in Windows, you may be disappointed with the absence of this flexibility in the Mac system preferences. But with anything, there is frustration in learning things a new way, especially when you can’t instantly see the visual differences. Everything seems to be backwards and inside out for a while. But I can assure you that if you’ve been using a Mac and built-in Zoom, you’ll be pleased with the improvements to screen magnification that ZoomText Mac will show you.
I’m making a lot of changes all at once – learning a new operating system and transitioning to becoming a screen reader user and giving up the mouse; ZoomText Mac and the large print keyboard is making all of this possible.
*For added text and photo clarity, you might want to consider a retina display (I’m waiting until they get cheaper).
**If you use Microsoft Office for the Mac, keep in mind that (with the exception of Outlook), Microsoft does not “expose” what is needed for accessibility. The result is that VoiceOver does not work, nor can ZoomText’s cursor enhancement and tracking work either. All of ZoomText Mac’s features work in Apple’s word editor “Pages”, as well as the other applications in the iWorks suite.