Voiceover 1 Basics

This applies to the Tiger (10.4) version of VoiceOver, a new version is in the works for VoiceOver 2 (Leopard).


Turn on Voiceover: cmd-F5
Tell Voiceover to shut up: ctrl
When you read a reference to “Voiceover keys” (or VO), this means the ctrl and option key pressed.

NB: If you are using a laptop, you will also need to press the fn key when using F1-F12, or change fn in the keyboard settings to do hardware, not software commands.

For navigating with VO keys locked on, press VO-semicolon Which toggles it on, therefore just semicolon turns it off.

Navigation Basics

Read all the visible content: VO-shift-W

(This includes all the window furniture).
To explore, use VO and the arrow keys, generally left and right unless you know a dialogue, as up and down tends to skip things.
Tab can be used to traverse controls that are keyboard selectable, however, it can’t get to all the things that Voiceover can with VO-arrows.
To select something, you can use VO-space.
To replicate a mouse click: VO-shift-space.

Context menu: VO-shift-m.
Open a file in finder: cmd-o.
Pop-ups: to get into pop-up menus, use: VO-space.
Status: Hear description of item: VO-F3.

Hear options (help info): VO-h (press twice for list)

Interacting with content

A window generally has buttons along the top, and a content section below. When reading through (VO-right arrow), you will hear something like “column view” (in finder), or HTML content (in Safari). To get into that content area, you interact with it using: VO-shift-down.

To stop interacting with it and move to another area, use VO-shift-up, and then you can arrow around the window again.
Read all within a content area when the area is highlighted: VO-A
Pause/start with ctrl.
Once you have done this, you are in the interaction mode, and need to press VO-shift-up to get out of the content area.

NB 2: Confusingly, some core applications do not need you to ‘interact’, such as text edit and finder, automatically having an edit area that you can type into without having to interact first. In the sidebar of the finder, it is important to use VO-arrows rather than just arrows, as when an item is selected via an arrow only, it moves the cursor into the columns (main) content area.

NB 2: When editing, VO reads content as you pass over it, so if you are editing text and moving between words, option-right/left will go a word at a time. Up and down generally work to read out lines.

Navigating text

These are the typical OSX keyboard commands for selecting and moving around text, the left equivalents are assumed:
Move right by word: alt-right arrow.

Move to end of line: cmd-right arrow.
NB: The page-up/down and end/home rarely move the cursor, not sure when they are useful.
Selecting text is done by pressing shift with the above commands.

Copying & Pasting

Cut and paste Relies on Cursor tracking being separate from the keyboard location. If you have cursor tracking on (which is the default), moving between items automatically makes them the selection.
To read out current selection: VO-f6
To select multiple items:

  • Turn off cursor tracking: VO-shift-F3<code>.
  • Press <code>esc to unselect any items selected.
  • Find items with: VO-arrows.
  • Select items with VO-cmd-space.
  • Then use usual commands to copy paste etc (cmd-c, cmd-v etc.)


Get to application menu: VO-m.
When in menu, press again to get to status area. When in status, press again for spotlight.
Keyboards access within the menu is as expected, you can press either VO-arrows<code> or just arrows (usually), and <code>esc to go back to what you were doing before.

Items which lead to other dialogues have a duplicate item first with “ellipsis” to indicate there is a sub-menu.
Get to Dock (the main application launcher): VO-d.
Arrows to move, space to select.
Context menu: VO-shift-m.
Switch between apps: cmd-tab (& shift to reverse).

Advanced application chooser: VO-f1 twice. (The first time reads out current app and number of apps running).
This opens a menu with each application as an item, and sub-menus for each window within the application. For just the windows in the current application, use VO-f2.


Switch view between icons, lists and columns: cmd-1 (icons), cmd-2 (outline list), cmd-3 (column view).

Open file: cmd-O


Open spotlight search: cmd-space.

Advanced features

Voiceover Utility

Open the Voiceover Utility: VO-f8

Mouse functions

If the mouse pointer is not following the VO cursor, it could be anywhere. The following can be useful:
Read what’s under the mouse pointer: VO-F5.

Move VO cursor to pointer location: VO-shift-F5.
Move pointer to VO cursor location: VO-cmd-F5.

Item chooser

Item chooser: VO-i

This creates an alphabetical list of all the items, controls, content & everything, so that you can press the first letter (or few letters) of the item that you want, and select that immediately. (NB: a good way of finding out what is accessible!)

3 contributions to “Voiceover 1 Basics

  1. Hey cmd f5 does not even work at all for me.
    Nothing seems to work , It just does not work at all for me.

    I see the voice over program in utilities. I dragged it onto the desktop. Nothing seems to work, I read the basics in the help menu.

    I have a Macbook 2007
    OS 10.4.11
    2 gig ram

    I’ve tried everything I know, How do you turn this thing on?
    Any ideas?

  2. Hi,

    I would put the program back in applications, you could cause problems moving it out of there.

    Also, if you are on a portable, you need to press fn-cmd-F5, as the default keyboard shortcuts for a laptop mean that the function key does hardware things, not software.

    I use a MBP, and generally switch it in the keyboard settings to use the function keys for software, not hardware.

    Let me know if that works for you.

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