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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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