Voiceover with braille with OS X Sierra

My experiences with voiceover and braille

I am a blind Mac user since Mac OS Leopard 10.5.3. Before that, I was using Windows and Linux.

In all situations, I used braille mostly with speech if speech was available.

So, when braille came available for OS X, I made the change to Mac.

I am writing this article on the following MacBook:

Model name: MacBookPro 12.1

Processor name: Intel Core i5

Processor speed: 2,7 GHz

1 processor with 2 cores.

L2-cache (per core): 256 KB

L3-cache: 3 MB

Memory: 16 GB

and Mac OS sierra 10.12.4. with safari 10.1


There were many changes during these 9 years and some of them where big changes for voiceover users.

But from the last releases on, from OS X 10.7 Lion , there were only a few voiceover fixes and a some new features.

Specifically braille has had a nice update in 10.6 Snow Leopard with more braille tables. After that, no changes have been implemented any more in spite of the many requests of blind Mac users.

That’s why I wanted to add my remarks about the limited braille support in Mac OS Sierra.


Many times, the braille display uses dots 7 and 8 as indication that the voiceover cursor is there.

Because dots 7 and 8 are in use, no other markers can be shown. If elements like menu items, links and other controls are selected, this isn’t visible without speech.

Dots 7 and 8 are useless since everything that is on the braille display is in the voiceover cursor.

And disabling dots 7 and 8 gives no indication  about the place of any cursor or selection at all So, this isn’t a solution also.

To show which element is selected, that item should just be shown on the braille display.

Also using command + tab to switch between different opened programs, I can’t see on the braille display which program has focus before releasing command + tab. The solution here is the same as above: show only the element with focus on the braille display.

In Mac OS, interaction is a basic way of working and this is a very innovative way of working. But sometimes, like in TextEdit, I can move between the text with the arrow-keys. But when I do a swipe down with 2 fingers, the text isn’t spoken from the place where I was. When I try to further interact, and I can do one level further, the problem of reading the text from the cursor is solved.

My suggestion: an indication on the braille display (and speech) if more or less interaction is possible.

With my Eurobraille Esys 40 braille display, it happens many times in Mail and some other programs that the cursor isn’t moving to the character where I press the routing key above in the text of a composed mail.

This is also the case for other Mac users with a Eurobraille Esys braille display.

Terminal is great because of the command line interface.

Unfortunately the braille support is very poor compared to the Linux terminal in combination with the BRLTTY screen reader.

Terminal doesn’t have a comfortable way to view all the text (history of commands) on the screen and there doesn’t seem to be a command to jump to the place of focus.

Navigating in manpages isn’t comfortable at all and there is no possibility to copy text from the terminal screen to the clipboard of Mac OS to paste e.g. in TextEdit.

Refreshing the text on the braille display doesn’t always work automatically. This happens e.g. when another window is popping up, or if switching between 2 or more applications. The workaround is to go away from the active application and go back. But, a better refresh functionality or a command to force refresh would be very welcome.

As for the web, the braille is very poor and not flexible. As I already said, elements that have the voiceover cursor, are underlined without any good reason if you are using a braille display.


The problems to fill in forms are also very frustrating.

To demonstrate this, I have done a test with the site from apple:


As example, I want to create a new apple-id on the website above.

The test is done with dom- and group-mode.

The steps are as follows:

  1. 1. vo+home: beginning of web page
  2. 2. j: first control where I have to type Before interacting on that edit field, On the braille display, I see: “Help (Email) knop”
  3. 3. When I interact there and type, I can’t see what I am typing on the braille display while I can hear it
  4. 4. I can’t see the names of the fields like first name, last name on my braille display so, without speech, I can’t know which information I have to fill in.

This is all the case for group/dom mode.

There are very few possibilities to configure the information on a braille display.

Since braille displays have only a few cells to show the information on the screen, it’s essential that the right information is on the right place at the right moment with as few commands as possible.

Examples of nice options are: configure the representation of elements like checkboxes, radio buttons, links on a braille display.


  • – [x]/[ ]: checked/unchecked checkbox;
  • – (x)/( ) checked/unchecked radio button;
  • – { choices }: combo boxes;

– is a good option to present “tab” on a line but, sometimes, it’s good to see the real space on the screen like “   “ instead of

  • – links on a website should be represented with the underlined text of the link with dots 7,8 on the braille display instead of writing a word “lnk” or “koppeling” in Dutch before the text of the link.
  • – configure if the text should be shown like it is on the screen or with as much as possible text on the braille display.
  • – configure if the types of the controls are shown on the braille display (with less text or information around the current area) instead of giving as much as possible information around the control with support of the speech to announce which control has focus.

My conclusion

The Mac with voiceover is still a product that has many possibilities and many things have been updated to provide better voiceover support.

However, for advanced braille users, I wouldn’t recommend the switch to a Mac anymore because of the limited and very basic braille support.

I still hope that Apple will make better efforts in the near feature for braille support.

And If I listen to the interview below, I believe Apple is taking accessibility very serious with very innovative results the last years.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Talks Accessibility With Three Accessibility …

Kind regards,


William Windels


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