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Just the Right Touch

Apple has built a treasure chest of accessibility features into Mac OS X and each new release of the operating system seems to provide improvements to those features for those with disabilities or for those that simply want to interact with their Mac in a different manner.

This week I will review a feature that relates to keyboard, mouse and input devices. We have covered Dictation in a previous issue of Kibbles & Bytes in my article Hey Dora, Follow Orders!. This week we will talk about another way to input data to your Mac.

Switch Control is a powerful accessibility technology for anyone with significantly impaired physical and motor skills. Built right into OS X, Switch Control gives you the ability to navigate onscreen keyboards, menus, and the Dock using a system commonly referred to as scanning. You can enter text, choose menus, move your pointer, and more – all by simply clicking a switch. You can use a keyboard key, mouse or trackpad button, joystick, or an adaptive device as one or more switches. Switch Control scans your screen until you click a switch. This single click selects an item, or performs an action.

To activate Switch Control:

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Choose Accessibility
  3. Select Switch Control from the list of Accessibility features
  4. Click on General Tab
  5. Check the “Enable Switch Control” button

After enabling Switch Control, the Home row window appears:

Press a switch (like your mouse button or the space bar) to cycle through items on the home row. Press the switch a second time to select the highlighted item.

Use Switch Control preferences in the Accessibility pane of System Preferences to set up switches that perform an action when pressed. You can use a mouse, keyboard or dedicated switch hardware connected using USB or Bluetooth to act as a switch. You can also change existing switch actions.

  • The spacebar is used as a switch, by default, when Switch Control is enabled.
  • To add a switch, click the Add button (+), then press your adaptive switch. Enter a name, then select an action such as Stop Scanning. To have the switch run a script or open an app, click Custom, then select the script or an app.
  • To remove a switch: Select a switch in the list, then click the Remove button (-).
  • To change the behavior of an existing switch, select a switch in the list, click the Action pop-up menu (looks like a gear), then change the name or action. To use a different switch for the action, click Reassign.

Scan and Select

When you press the Select Item switch, Switch Control begins stepping through a panel, group, or user interface. Switch control highlights each item or group as it scans. When an item is highlighted, press the Select Item switch. If the selected item is a group press the switch to scan the group. Then, press the switch to select an item in the group.

If you need to use the pointer to click an item that isn’t part of an app’s interface, you can use Pointer mode to scan the screen and click an item.

  1. Click to begin scanning horizontally.
  2. When the range finder highlights the area you want to click, click your switch again.
  3. Click another time to precisely refine your horizontal position.
  4. The next click starts the vertical range finder scan.
  5. Click again to refine your vertical position.
  6. Click your switch a final time to click the element on the screen that is currently under the blue crosshair you created on the screen.

You can also use the Home Row to access Keyboard, Pointer, App, Dock, Menu Bar, System, Custom or Location.

If you choose Keyboard from the Home Row and on-screen keyboard will appear. Type text in a document or field by scanning the keyboard in the panel, opening a group of keys, and then selecting a key. The first group contains suggested words based on the first keys you press. This lets you save typing time by selecting a suggested word.

To move the pointer to an area of the screen, select Move. You’ll see a vertical scan start to glide across the screen. When you press the Select Item switch, the block stops and a vertical blue line starts to glide across the block. Press the switch again to either stop the blue line, or substantially slow it down before you press the switch again to stop it. When you do the same horizontally, you’ll see the pointer move to the intersection of the two blue lines.

Scans items and groups in the active window of the current app.

Immediately starts scanning just the items in the Dock.

Menu Bar
Scan the menu bar group, then the menu extras group.

Control the volume or display brightness of your Mac, and control media playback.

You can create custom panels in System Preferences > Accessibility > Switch Control > Open Panel Editor. Any custom panels you create appear here.

Use this option to reposition the Switch Control Home row on the screen.

While Switch Controls can be used with your keyboard or mouse, there are numerous switches available as USB or Bluetooth devices that can address many mobility situations. Small Dog Electronics carries a number of these “switches“

Apple has clearly spent a lot of time and R & D on making technology more accessible to those with disabilities. This is clearly in line with Apple’s mission to improve the quality of life for its customers through innovation.

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Storage Optimization

For years I’ve been fighting the battle of hard drive space on my computers. Some of my hard drive issues were accidental, some have been self inflicted. At least once a year I discover that I’m once again running out of space on my hard drive and I embark on an exhausting and drawn out process of determining what is taking up space and where. This issue has become somewhat of an office joke because it’s something I am always fighting.

When you open up About This Mac on your computer and then select storage, you’re met with some basic information. The system will give you a very general idea of what’s on your computer and give you specifics on how much space is allocated to Apps, Photos, Audio, Moves and Other. The “other” category is perhaps the biggest mystery when it comes to your drive. Just what is in that “other” category anyway? Programs like Disk Inventory X were life savers for me. This software can help to locate large files on your machine and then you can determine if it’s something you want to remove.

With the release of Sierra and the introduction of storage optimization all of my headaches with space have almost magically disappeared. Before installing Sierra on my Mac I had about 25GB of free space on my hard drive and for the past 6 months or so I have had limited success in freeing up more space. Basic tricks like actually shutting down my computer and rebooting, regularly dumping my trash and trolling through my files have had short term success in creating more space on my computer. Storage optimization has made all of this go away almost instantly, including the annoying ‘other’ category.

When I initially installed Sierra I gained about 10GB of space as unnecessary files were removed, but I wanted more space. Upon looking at my storage I was delighted to see that the other category really is gone! Sierra breaks down what’s taking up space in several categories making it much easier to identify at a glance what file categories are hogging valuable space.

You can see at a glance how much space Mail, Photos, Documents, iOS files and more are using. Click on the manage button in the top right hand corner and it will expand to provide suggestions for storage optimization. You can easily choose to send your photos to iCloud and you can specifically select and turn on storage optimization. Storage optimization will automatically remove iTunes movies and TV shows you’ve already watched, keep only recent e-mail attachments and discard the aging ones. Other options are to set your computer to automatically empty trash for anything older than 30 days or choose to reduce clutter. The reduce clutter option will sort through your documents and other content and delete what is no longer needed once you review the files.

Within the storage optimization options you can click on the different storage categories and see specifics on what is in that category. If you select documents, it will show you the entire contents of your documents folder and the file sizes. It can do the same with Mail, iOS files, applications and additional categories. No longer do you need to dig through files. You can see everything in one quick view! In going through the categories I uncovered in less than 5 minutes that the major storage issues on my machine were old iOS backups of phones, almost 40GB worth! I deleted all my old iOS backups except the most recent one and significantly increased the amount of free space on my hard drive. Going forward it’s going to be much easier to manager my storage and better isolate my storage troubles.

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See the world through an Olloclip

Taking pictures is a daily occurrence for me. For years, I have enjoyed taking my DSLR camera for a walk to see what I could find. Seeing the world through my camera’s viewfinder always makes things simpler. I wanted a way to get this experience, but in a way that was more portable. I looked at one of the products we sell, called Olloclip, and wondered how well it worked. I talked to Will, our purchasing Manager who has an Olloclip, and I decided to try it out. I am so happy with my decision. The reason I was searching was because my husband and I were headed on an Alaskan cruise. I didn’t want to lug my big camera around and knew there had to be a better option. The Olloclip is amazing. I have an iPhone 6S Plus and the clip was so easy to use. I got those once-in-a-lifetime pictures I wanted and didn’t have to carry around a huge camera. My favorite lens is the wide angle. I use it for everything from selfies to panoramas and landscapes. The trip was great and by using the Olloclip I got details I would have missed without it.

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Using Calendar to Manage Your Life

I don’t know how many of you know this, but before I started Small Dog Electronics I had a “real” job working as the General Manager of a software company that produced address book software and calendar software. Day-to-Day Calendar was the calendar product that came out before I left the company. So, I know a little about calendars and what goes into making a great calendar product.

I like Apple’s Calendar and I use it extensively. These days I can set calendar appointments directly from email messages or ask Siri to set a date for me. My calendar is always available to me; that same calendar is on my Mac, my iPad, my iPhone and on my wrist on my Apple Watch. Further, with iCloud it is available anywhere I have internet connectivity.

You do have to make a commitment to using calendar, especially if you are a busy person. It won’t do to have just some of your appointments and reminders on the calendar. The best way to use calendar is to make an effort to put them ALL on there.

I have a lot of regular meetings that happen weekly so those time slots are booked as repeating events. I also know that on Thursday I have to write Kibbles & Bytes, so I block that time slot off so I don’t accidentally find myself without time to write.

Let’s go into some of the details of how to use calendar. We all have devices that will not be that useful unless you have the same calendar on all of them. That is the big benefit of iCloud Calendar. So, my first recommendation is to make sure all of your devices are logged into the SAME iCloud account. If you have multiple iCloud accounts you are not going get full benefit from Calendar. Surf to iCloud preferences on each device and make sure you are signed into iCloud with the same Apple ID. Then make sure Calendars is checked in iCloud preferences on each device and you are ready for a unified experience.

Now you can start adding meetings, events, appointments and activities as well as set up event alerts, reminders and notifications. When you add an event you will be presented with a number of options including when the event starts and stops, whether it is a repeating event, where the event takes place, how long it will take to drive to the event, when you should be reminded, etc.

If you add the location, like the name of a major league ballpark, Calendar will fill in the address and show you a map, the weather and when you should leave to get there on time. You can invite meeting attendees and Calendar will send them the invite which can be easily added to that person’s calendar.

You can share your calendar, too! That is especially handy for significant others, kids, co-workers and anyone that needs to know when you are free. iCloud makes that easy. You can also subscribe to public calendars like an academic calendar, the Boston Celtics schedule or hundreds of others that you can find here.

Siri makes calendar even easier. Now that Siri is on the Mac it is easy to say “hey Siri, set up a meeting with Emily for Tuesday at 2” and bingo it is added to my calendar and an invite is sent to her. Or you can ask Siri when your next meeting is or just to tell you your schedule when you wake up in the morning.

Apple Calendar plays well with others, too! You can set up Calendar to work with Apple’s iCloud, Google Calendar, Microsoft’s Outlook, and even CalDav calendars from your own or your company’s servers. Because iOS has a unified calendar database, whatever you add or change in Apple Calendar will also be reflected in any third-party calendars you have and vice-versa.

This is just an overview of the many features of a very powerful Calendar. I think as you get to know Calendar you will, as I do, find it an indispensable part of your digital lifestyle. I do remember the days of paper organizers, I carried one around for a very long time and I just do not know how I could manage without Calendar, now.

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Drift off to Music or Books

Ever want to drift off to your latest audio book or maybe even some music that’s on your iOS device? There’s a somewhat hidden feature in iOS that allows you to use a sleep timer, perfect for those who might not have a docking station or speaker system with a built in sleep timer or while traveling.

iBooks in iOS has a built-in sleep timer that can automatically pause playback after a specified amount of time, perfect for listening to an audiobook as you drift off to sleep, just tap the Moon button below the volume slider. What if you prefer listening to content that’s not in iBooks? No problem! To set a sleep timer that works for Music, iTunes or any other audio app, open the Clock app and tap the Timer button. Next, tap ‘when timer ends’ (iPhone) or the selected sound (iPad), scroll to the end of the list of sounds, and select ‘stop’ playing. When your ready to listen as you drift off to sleep, start the timer just before or immediately after you press play.

Now, no matter where you are, you can easily set a timer at any time to listen to your favorite audio bytes!

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