Disability Services

VoiceOver and Text To Speech for Mac OS X


VoiceOver is a full function screen reader somewhat similar to using JAWS. It reads all elements of the window and uses specific keystrokes and trackpad swipes to interact with menus and the contents of programs. It was designed for people who are blind so it may be too feature rich for people just wanting to read text in a document. The hotkey for starting VoiceOver for all Mac version since OS 10.5 is Command+F5.

VoiceOver will not read in Microsoft Office for Mac or in Adobe Acrobat Reader for Mac. Comparable programs that VoiceOver will work in are Pages (an Apple word processor) and Preview (the default PDF viewer for Mac). More information can be found at



Mac OS X also has a Text to Speech Option which will read selected text when the user presses a user defined Shortcut Key. The text to speech option also works in the Apple Calculator to make it self voicing. It is a simpler option than VoiceOver to use for reading e-texts for people with learning disabilities.

  1. To start, open the System Preferences panel under the Apple icon and click on Dictation and Speech.
  2. Select the Text to Speech tab
  3. Check the option “Speak selected text when the key is pressed
  4. Click the Set Key option
  5. Choose one modifier key — Command, Control, Option, or Shift — plus one other key of your choice
  6. Then click OK

Now each time you type this key combination, your Mac will read aloud any text you have selected. To stop the speech, type the same key combination again.

The default hotkey for TTS is Option+Escape. You can adjust the voice and speech rate in the Dictation and Speech options in System Preferences.

Selecting a Different Reading Voice

Alex is the default reading voice on the Mac OS. It is an incredibly realistic voice but there are other options for text to speech voices in Mac. Mac OS has a large number of high quality voices available from Nuance in many languages and dialects. To access these voices do the following.

  1. Open the Apple menu and select System Preferences
  2. Open Dictation and Speech
  3. Click on the System Voice combobox and click on Customize
  4. Check the checkbox for the voices you wish to install and click OK

The additional voices will take some time to download. Each file is around 200 megabytes. If you install voices for different languages it will also download additional files Mac will need to support those languages. You probably do not want to download more voices than you will use.

Creating MP3's with a Mac

Books2Burn is a free Text-To-Speech MP3 creation program for the Mac OS X Leopard. It can use the high quality Alex voice to create MP3's that you can load onto your iPod. This program has not been tested by our office yet but our understanding is that it will only open text files. You may need to cut and paste the text you want for the MP3 in the user interface.

Click here for more info and to download Books2Burn.

For more details about Apple and Mac Accessibility visit: