How to make your computer speak text aloud in Mac OS X

This page explains step-by-step how to use the built-in speech functions in Mac OS X. Starting with OS 10.4 (Tiger), Mac OS X has included a fully integrated screenreader called VoiceOver. Earlier versions of Mac OS X have only the more limited screen-reading function called Speech (which is also available on later versions).

Areas in this guide:

Note: The following abbreviations for keys on the Mac are used: Ctrl is used for the Control key, Apple is used for the Command key, and Alt is used for the Option key. For keyboard access, make sure 'Full keyboard access' is turned on - you can turn it on or off by pressing Ctrl + F1 at any time.

Video how to guide

Text version

Making your computer speak text aloud in Mac OS X

Turn on and customise VoiceOver

Step 1: Open the 'Universal Access' window

Make sure you are in 'Finder'. If necessary, press Apple + Tab to cycle through the open applications until you return to 'Finder'.

Click on the 'Apple' icon on the menu bar or press Ctrl + F2.

Click on 'System Preferences', as shown in Fig 1, or press the down arrow key to highlight it and then press Enter.

Fig 1'Apple' drop-down menu

In the 'System Preferences' window (shown in Fig 2), click on the 'Universal Access' icon, or press Tab repeatedly (you might need to press Ctrl + F7 first) to cycle through the icons until the 'Universal Access' icon is highlighted and then press the Spacebar.

Fig 2'System Preferences' window

Step 2: Turn on VoiceOver

In the 'Universal Access' window (shown in Fig 3), make sure the 'Seeing' tab is selected. If it is not, click on it, or press Ctrl + F7 to highlight one of the tabs and then press the left or right arrow key to select it.

Fig 3'Universal Access' window showing the 'Seeing' tab

Under the 'VoiceOver' header, click the 'On' radio button, or press Tab until the 'Off' radio button is highlighted and then press the left arrow key to select 'On'. You can also turn VoiceOver on or off at any time by pressing Apple + F5.

Step 3: Customise the settings for VoiceOver

To change the VoiceOver settings, click on the 'Open VoiceOver Utility' button, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar.

In the 'VoiceOver Utility' window, shown in Fig 4, you can customise the settings in nine categories, which appear in the left-hand pane.

Fig 4'VoiceOver Utility' window

To select a category, click on it, use the up and down arrow keys, or press Apple and the number it is in the list. For example, for 'General' press Apple + 1 and for 'Braille' press Apple + 9.

For a detailed guide to all of the VoiceOver settings options, see Apple's VoiceOver pages.

Click on the window's red close button or press Apple + W to finish.

Note: If this does not work it could be because your computer settings cannot be changed due to local IT policies - contact your local IT support for further help.

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Step 4: Braille support in VoiceOver

VoiceOver includes braille support. VoiceOver automatically recognises the model in use and programmes the keys - including 'wiz wheels', scrollers, router keys and buttons - to best suit each model's characteristics.

If you don't have a USB braille display, you can use the on-screen visual braille panel that is included with VoiceOver.

The braille panel behaves like a standard 40-cell display. It shows both the braille dots being sent to the dedicated braille display and an English translation, so sighted instructors, parents or co-workers can read its contents with minimal disturbance to the non-sighted user.

Turn on and customise Speech (OS 10.4 & later)

Step 1: Open the 'Speech' window

Make sure you are in 'Finder'. If necessary, press Apple + Tab to cycle through the open applications until you return to 'Finder'.

Click on the 'Apple' icon on the menu bar or press Ctrl + F2.

Click on 'System Preferences', as shown in Fig 1, or press the down arrow key to highlight it and then press Enter.

Fig 1'Apple' drop-down menu

In the 'System Preferences' window (shown in Fig 2), click on the 'Speech' icon, or press Tab repeatedly (you might need to press Ctrl + F7 first) to cycle through the icons until the 'Speech' icon is highlighted and then press the Spacebar.

Fig 2'System Preferences' window

Step 2: Set up the voice in Speech

In the 'Speech' window, make sure the 'Text to Speech' tab is selected, as shown in Fig 3. If it is not, click on it, or press Ctrl + F7 to highlight one of the tabs and then press the left or right arrow key to select it.

Fig 3'Speech' window showing the 'Text to Speech' tab

Click the drop-down button beside 'System Voice' and select a voice from the list, or press Tab until the drop-down button is highlighted and then use the up and down arrow keys to select a voice.

To hear the voice you have chosen, click on the 'Play' button, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar.

To speed up or slow down the voice, click and drag the slider next to 'Speaking Rate', or press Tab until it is highlighted and then use the left and right arrow keys to adjust the speed.

Step 3: Customise the spoken alerts

To set it so the alert speech for dialogue boxes starts with a phrase, tick the box next to 'Announce when alerts are displayed' by clicking on it, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar to tick it.

Click the 'Set Alert Options' button, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar, to open the pop-up window shown in Fig 4.

Fig 4'Alert Options' pop-up window

Click the drop-down button to the right of 'Phrase', or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar, to see a list of available phrases. Click on the one you want, or use the up and down arrow keys to select a phrase. (You can edit the list of phrases and add your own by choosing 'Edit Phrase List').

To adjust how long the computer waits before speaking, click and drag the slider next to 'Delay', or press Tab until it is highlighted and then use the left and right arrow keys to select the delay (in seconds). To have the computer speak the dialogue immediately, select a value of 0.

Click the 'OK' button or press Enter to return to the 'Speech' window (shown in Fig 3).

To have the computer read any text that you have highlighted on your screen, tick the box next to 'Speak selected text when the key is pressed' by clicking on it, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar to tick it. Click the 'Set Key' button, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar, and then enter a combination of keys that you can easily remember in the dialogue box. Click on the 'OK' button or press Enter.

When you are happy with your settings, click on the window's red close button or press Apple + W to finish.

Note: If this does not work it could be because your computer settings cannot be changed due to local IT policies - contact your local IT support for further help.

Turn on and customise Speech (OS 10.3 & earlier)

Step 1: Open the 'Speech' window

Make sure you are in 'Finder'. If necessary, press Apple + Tab to cycle through the open applications until you return to 'Finder'.

Click on the 'Apple' icon on the menu bar or press Ctrl + F2.

Click on 'System Preferences', as shown in Fig 1, or press the down arrow key to highlight it and then press Enter.

Fig 1'Apple' drop-down menu

In the 'System Preferences' window (shown in Fig 2), click on the 'Speech' icon, or press Tab repeatedly (you might need to press Ctrl + F7 first) to cycle through the icons until the 'Speech' icon is highlighted and then press the Spacebar.

Fig 2'System Preferences' window

Step 2: Set up the voice in Speech

In the 'Speech' window, make sure the 'Default Voice' tab is selected, as shown in Fig 3. If it is not, click on it, or press Ctrl + F7 to highlight one of the tabs and then press the left or right arrow key to select it.

Fig 3'Speech' window showing the 'Default Voice' tab

Under the 'Voice' header, click on a voice from the list, or press Tab until the list is highlighted and then use the up and down arrow keys to select a voice.

To hear the voice you have chosen, click on the 'Play' button, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar.

To speed up or slow down the voice, click and drag the slider next to 'Rate', or press Tab until it is highlighted and then use the left and right arrow keys to adjust the speed.

Step 3: Customise the spoken alerts

Click on the 'Spoken User Interface' tab, as shown in Fig 4, or press Ctrl + F7 to highlight one of the tabs and then press the left or right arrow key to select it.

Fig 4'Speech' window showing the 'Spoken User Interface' tab

To have your computer speak the text in dialogue boxes, tick the box next to 'Speak the alert text' by clicking on it, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar to tick it.

To adjust how long the computer waits before speaking, click and drag the slider next to 'Wait before speaking', or press Tab until it is highlighted and then use the left and right arrow keys to select the delay (in seconds). To have the computer speak the dialogue immediately, select a value of 0.

To set it so the alert speech starts with a phrase, tick the box next to 'Speak the phrase' by clicking on it, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar to tick it. Click the drop-down button to the right of 'Speak the phrase', or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar, to see a list of available phrases. Click on the one you want, or use the up and down arrow keys to select a phrase. (You can edit the list of phrases and add your own by choosing 'Edit phrase list').

Under the 'Other spoken items' header, turn on any additional options you want by ticking the boxes. For example, to read any text under the mouse pointer, tick the box next to 'Text under the mouse' by clicking on it, or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar to tick it.

When you are happy with your settings, click on the window's red close button or press Apple + W to finish.

Note: If this does not work it could be because your computer settings cannot be changed due to local IT policies - contact your local IT support for further help.

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