HazeOver is a $4.99 Mac app marketed as a distraction aid. The idea is that it dims all other windows so you can focus on the content in the foreground window (a blog post like this one, a paper you are drafting for school, etc.). The developers have prepared a short demo video that shows how the app works.
While that may be a good way to use this utility, for me it has become a helpful low vision aid as well. I often have a difficult time finding the mouse cursor and popup windows if they are out of my field of view (currently about 7 or 8 degrees depending on the day). I have been using Mousepose to help with the mouse cursor problem. Even with the mouse cursor set to the largest size it allows in Mac OS, I still have a difficult time locating it on the screen, especially when I have a dual monitor setup. I have found that the spotlight Mousepose puts around the mouse cursor when I press a special key (I have set to F1) makes this task much easier.
HazeOver does pretty much the same thing but for popup windows. When one of these windows pops up on the screen, the focus is assigned to it and all other windows are dimmed. In the HazeOver preferences, you can determine whether you want just one window to be highlighted or all front windows within the active app. I find the one window setting to be the most helpful with popups. You can adjust the level of dimming at any time using a slider that can be accessed by clicking the Menu Bar icon. For the best performance, HazeOver asks to get access to Mac OS as an assistive device.
A free trial of HazeOver is available from the developer’s site if you want to try it out first before you buy it on the Mac App Store.
I was pleasantly surprised when I recently updated my Chromebook to the latest version of Chrome OS (version 54 at the time of writing). Whenever I do an update, one of the first things I do is go into the accessibility settings to see if any new options have been added. In the latest version of Chrome OS, Google has provided a number of visual supports that I am finding helpful as a person with low vision. For example, there is now the option to enable additional highlighting (a red circle) when the mouse cursor moves. This kind of additional visual cue makes it much easier for me to use the interface.
To enable the new highlight options, go to Settings > Show Advanced Settings > Accessibility. The new options are as follows:
- Highlight the mouse cursor when it’s moving: the cursor will be surrounded by red circle whenever it moves. There is already an option to enable a large cursor, but that can cause problems whenever you are trying to check a small box (as often happens on dialog boxes). With this additional highlighting added to the mouse cursor I can still find it on the screen even if I need to temporarily set it to its default size.
- Highlight the object with keyboard focus when it changes: this is really helpful when interacting with form fields. Whenever a text field or other form element gets focus it is surrounded by a thick yellow border.
- Highlight the text caret when it appears or moves: adds a blue circle around the text caret. I did not find this setting as useful, maybe because there is not much space between the text caret and the highlight.
- New animation for auto-click: as the circles get smaller, this indicates how much time is left before the auto-click takes place.
There is some room for improvement with these visual supports (for example, the option to change the colors), but overall I think this is a good addition to Chrome OS. The options for highlighting the moving cursor and keyboard focus are going to always be turned on on my Chromebook.
Zoom on the Apple TV provides up to 15X magnification for those who have low vision, but it can benefit anyone who has difficulty seeing the Apple TV interface on their TV. This accessibility feature should be familiar to low vision users of other Apple products. It has been available for some time on the Mac and on iOS devices, and it is also supported on the Apple Watch. With the release of the 4th Generation Apple TV, every Apple product that supports a display now also supports magnification for low vision users.
This video provides an overview of the Zoom accessibility feature. You will learn how to enable/disable Zoom in Settings, how to add Zoom to the Accessibility Shortcut for quick access, and some of the gestures supported by Zoom:
- a light tap near any edge on the Siri remote will move the zoomed in area by one screen
- dragging on the touch area of the Siri remote will allow you to pan in any direction (a two finger tap will stop/resume panning).
- double-tapping and holding with two fingers, then dragging up/down without letting go will allow you to adjust the zoom level.
A nice feature built into Zoom is that you can double-tap the Siri remote at any time to hear the currently selected item read aloud. This works even if you are not currently zoomed in (Zoom just has to be enabled).
With iOS 9, Apple has added a new option for selecting text to the onscreen keyboard. Using a two-finger drag gesture, it is now much easier (at least for me) to place the cursor right where I want it. Another two-finger tap selects the word closest to the cursor, and another two-finger drag makes a selection.
I have found this method of text selection to be much faster than the old one where you had to tap and hold to get a magnifying glass which allowed you to place the cursor and then select from editing options from a popover menu. The new gestures work very well with the new Shortcut Bar that appears above the onscreen keyboard on the iPad. This Shortcut Bar provides shortcuts for editing and formatting options such as cut, copy, past, bold, underline and italicize. Finally, if you use Zoom, you can have it follow the cursor as you move within the text area by making sure Follow Focus is enabled in the Zoom settings (General > Accessibility > Zoom).
Here is a brief video showing the new cursor movement and text selection gestures for the iPad in action. At the end of the video I show how these gestures can work with Zoom.
Out of all the amazing accessibility features built into my Apple devices, the ones that are most meaningful to me are those that are intended for people with low vision. These are the features I use most frequently since I still have some vision left and I am not a full time VoiceOver user.
To share what I have learned about these features with the rest of the educational technology and assistive technology communities, I have authored a new multi-touch book: Supporting Students with Low Vision with Apple Technology. I had hoped to have the book available on the iBookstore in time for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, but with more than 25 videos that needed captioning it took longer than I expected. I am providing a sneak peek of a work in progress available for download from my Dropbox account. A word of caution: the file is 345 MB due to the videos.
The book explores the concept of an ecosystems approach to accessibility which I discussed in my Global Accessibility Awareness Day post. It focuses not only on the accessibility features found throughout the Apple ecosystem (on iOS, Mac, Apple TV and even Apple Watch), a number of apps to designed to meet the needs of those with low vision, and techniques for creating more accessible content for low vision readers.
I hope you like this multi-touch book and I welcome any feedback related to it: things I missed, things that need to be clearer, any feedback you wish to provide. Here is the intro video I created for it with PowToon: