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Accessibility Features on the Mac

Accessibility & How It Can Help You!
by Guest columnist August Flassig

Apple's Accessibility Logo

Accessibility: noun. the quality of being easily reached, entered, or used by people who have a disability

Apple places great importance on accessibility in the design and use of its projects. It’s not just for people with disabilities but also for those who need a little help in using their products. In recent years, Apple has stressed the importance of simple, straightforward fitness goals to its clients using an iPhone and/or Apple Watch. Examples include the calories expended counter, steps walked, heart rate, etc. Another one of those goals is standing up every hour during the first 12 hours in a day. The premise is that if you stand, you’re more likely to walk and get some exercise. After the Apple Watch’s initial release, Apple realized there are people who can't stand because they are bound to a wheelchair and it changed that goal from “time to stand” to “time to roll.” When you get an Apple Watch and you’re setting it up, it asks if you are in a wheelchair. It’s a small example but one that helps illustrate Apple’s growing dedication to accessibility. Unfortunately, though, accessibility features are those most often overlooked by people using their Apple devices. I recently did a presentation on Accessibility at a retirement community and it’s a topic they have yet to touch which surprised me! Accessibility settings are both in macOS and iOS and TV OS.

Before talking a deep dive, let’s talk about an overview of what accessibility does and show a few useful settings. Accessibility is changing the display resolution, adding subtitles, or using speech to control the computer to accommodate someone with a disability or impairment. Apple has a lot of accessibility features ranging from increasing the size of the mouse cursor to using third party accessories to control the computer. We are going to focus on some of the basic settings because more advanced settings may require third party manuals. Therefore, we will focus on display, zoom, and click speed. I will provide a brief overview and options for these features but please feel free to look at other setting that may pertain to you. All of these settings are in System Preferences on the Mac or in Settings on iOS. Please note that this article will be for macOS and the next article posted will cover iOS as the settings are not universal for both.


This is a quick look at the menu option for Accessibility on MacOS. Currently, I’m running macOS 10.12 “Sierra” (if you are using an older version of the Mac operating system, this may be slightly different). We will only focus on a few menus in this article. The last two options require hardware. If you know someone who uses those, please refer to their respective user manuals.

First, let’s find the Accessibility settings in macOS 10.12. In the upper left-hand corner of your screen, please click on
Apple System Preferences Accessibility Zoom.

Zoom screenshot

The first option I'm choosing is Zoom, which will either make the screen larger (somewhat harder to navigate) or create a magnifying glass (picture in picture option). The zoom style I prefer in Picture-in-picture as I can have a magnified window follow the mouse cursor or leave it in one place. I personally prefer the leave it in one place and mouse over the item I wish to see. To activate the window, choose “Options…” to the far right os “Zoom style” and the secondary window will appear with more options. To make the “Picture-in-picture” appear, drag the zoom slider to the desired magnification. Anything beyond 10x will probably be too large but see what works for you. You may want the window to follow the mouse or make the window stationary. Personally, I prefer it stationary because it’s out of the way and I have the entire screen but the ability to see what’s over my cursor. It’s all personal preference and there isn't a “right option.”

Zoom Options

Display options will cover most accommodations people need when enabling accessibility options. More often than not, on a site visit, Eddy or I will usually change some settings here to make it easier to read for the client. Some options like “Invert Colors” or “Use Grayscale” are for people with more vision disabilities than we've run into but are available. The three options we change the most is “Increase contrast”, “Reduce Transparency” and “Cursor Size.” I have examples of these shown below to better illustrate the concepts. “Reduce Transparency” makes the icons in the sidebar and other interface elements easier to see. The “frosted glass” look of the menus is beautiful, but for those with a vision issue, it may be impractical.

Before reducing transparency:


After reducing transparency:


With “Increase Contrast” enabled, you can see that buttons are outlined, the grays are darker, and reduce transparency is turned off automatically. For some this will make it easier to distinguishing buttons. You can also make the cursor or arrow larger so that it’s easier to see. For those who lose track of their cursor, you can shake the cursor to temporarily increase the size and find it. This is also the place to turn it off if you don't like that feature.

increase contrast

In the same settings you can also see “Open Display Preferences…” click on that to go to that setting. This next tip is for retina display Mac’s ONLY! For those with a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with a CD drive, a Mac Mini on a 1080P display, or an older iMac (2013 or earlier) this will not be an option for you.

Scaled Display

Scaled display on Retina Macs can make the resolution look as if it were on a smaller or larger resolution monitor. If you select “Larger text” you will see it say “Look’s like 1600 x 900” and “More Space” will say “3200 x 1800.” Most of you reading this will avoid the extreme end of the More Space spectrum and choose larger text. Please note, that larger text means larger windows and file icon sizes. It’s scaling the display to look larger so things will change. I have an examples of scaled and default on a 5K iMac as the demo machine. Screen dimensions will be smaller on MacBooks and MacBook Pros.


The first example is the “Larger Text” option. The Menu bar names are bolder and easier to see. However, Pages takes up the whole screen! You sacrifice space (i.e. screen “real estate&rdquoWinking for size so for those who have multiple items open at a time, you might have to change your workflow.

Larger text

As an example, this is what the default size looks like. Notice I have three windows open side by side, but the menu bar at the top is harder to read. With the more space option, the text, icons, and windows become even smaller. However, my dock remains the same size because it’s loaded with apps.

default scaled

Click Speed

The issue many people have is double-clicking to open a file and how quick you need to be for it to work. Some people take a few tries before it registers before opening a file. In the mouse and trackpad settings of Accessibility, this is where you can adjust the delay between clicks. By moving the slider to the left, closer to “slower,” changes the time in between click to register a double click. On the fastest setting, I even have trouble opening a folder because the required speed is so high. However, on the slowest setting, I can click, wait seconds, and click again and the folder will open. This wont affect other who may click faster than you and slow it down, but give you the opportunity to click at your own pace.

click options


There are plenty of Accessibility settings to choose from and enable that may fit your daily usage needs. This is only some of the more basic settings in Accessibility to choose from. I encourage to click through the menu’s and see if anything else pertains to you and feel free to email us about additional features. When it comes to third party accessories, please refer to your user guide. I hope this article provided some new information on an important system feature and be on the lookout for the iOS version of this article.

As always, should you need some assistance with the accessibility features of your Mac or iOS device, please call or email as we stand at the ready to help!