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Learning to Use VoiceOver

Career Corner is a program produced by the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network, part of State Services for the Blind, and it is recorded for people are blind or have reading disabilities. You can listen to the stream of the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network at www.mnssb.org/rtb, and the password is RTB. I’m Stuart Holland.

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From: AFB Access World Magazine’s reviews and guides, Learning to Use VoiceOver on the Mac and iOS with Audio Tutorials from Mac for the Blind

Jamie Pauls

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If you are a technology enthusiast, chances are good that you have placed a new Mac, iPhone, or iPad on your Christmas list. As the size of Apple devices continues to shrink, many of them will fit in a decent-sized stocking. 

Assuming that you are fortunate enough to receive a new Mac or iOS device for Christmas, you now have the thrill of learning to use your new gadget. After all, VoiceOver, Apple's built-in screen reader, is a part of any new product you receive. 

But is it really that easy? Might there, in fact, be a bit of learning curve when it comes to grasping the concepts of the OS X operating system found on the Mac, or the iOS operating system that comes on your new iPhone, iPod, or iPad? Not only do you need to get up and running with a new operating system, but you need to learn to use a new screen reader as well. 

There are lots of free resources available to the blind person who wants to learn to use VoiceOver with Apple's product line, but where are those resources located? Even if you manage to find all those resources, you will discover that quality and teaching style varies greatly from one to the other. Fortunately, there is a better way.

John Panarese has been a part of the assistive technology industry for years. He has trained many blind people in the use of Apple's products over the years. In fact, Panarese is now an Apple certified support professional and trainer. 

He recently sat down with Scott Davert and Alex Hall of the AppleVis team to discuss the topic of becoming an Apple certified support professional from the perspective a blind person. Panarese is also the driving force behind the Mac for the Blind website, which offers many free resources, in both text and audio form, for learning to use Apple products. 

Recently, Panarese decided it was time to release a series of audio tutorials for the Mac and iOS. While not abandoning the practice of placing free resources on his site, he made the decision to charge for this new set of tutorials. Rather than create one mammoth tutorial covering every aspect of using VoiceOver on the Mac and iOS, he decided to create a series of short tutorials that could be purchased separately. It would also be easier to update these tutorials as the need arose. 

Those tutorials are now available on his website, so let's take a look at the current offerings.

Style and Presentation

Each tutorial is made available as an MP3 file that can be purchased and downloaded from the site. The tutorials range in price from $30 to $45, with one $70 bundle available for a two-part series on using VoiceOver with Safari on the Mac. 

Panarese has a teaching style that is warm and relaxed, while avoiding unnecessary chit-chat. Each tutorial has been professionally edited by Patrick Purdue and Derek Lane of P&D Audio, so the quality of the audio is extremely high. The years Panarese has spent training clients privately and for state agencies shows in his tutorials. He makes many references to actual experiences he has had when working with clients, alerting the listener to potential pitfalls and frustrations that may be encountered during the learning process. 

The thorough but fast-paced style employed in these tutorials allows Panarese to cover a lot of material in a fairly short amount of time. For example, his free Introduction to VoiceOver tutorial available in the "Mac Lessons" area of the tutorial site, runs just under 50 minutes in length, but covers just the right amount of material to get the new user up and running.

An Overview of Currently Available Mac for the Blind Tutorials

Mac and iOS tutorials are listed separately on the Mac for the Blind website. In each category, one free tutorial is available, so that the student can get a feel for how tutorials are presented. The free tutorials introduce you to using VoiceOver on the Mac and iOS.

Paid tutorials include a lesson on when and how to interact with items on the Mac. This is an area that causes a fair amount of confusion for those who are considering the Mac, and for the new user. Panarese discusses the seven element types that require interaction. These include scroll areas, browsers, tables, tool bars, groups, sliders/value indicators, and grids.

A tutorial on the Mac VoiceOver utility helps the student configure the screen reader to their liking.

I personally found the lesson on using the Finder to be especially enlightening. Panarese discusses the various views one can use when working with the Finder, and encourages the student to become familiar with the folder structure of the hard disk. VoiceOver utility commanders on the Mac can help simplify the use of the screen reader, and Panarese takes a look at these commanders in another of his tutorials. 

Learning to use the Safari web browser on the Mac comprises two tutorials. Tutorials on learning to use Mail and Text Edit round out the current crop of Mac tutorials. iOS tutorials include such subjects as typing and text entry, VoiceOver and the item rotor, using the Messages app on iOS, and the Phone.

The Bottom Line

Panarese encourages people to continue taking advantage of all of the free resources available for learning to use VoiceOver with the Mac and iOS devices. There are times, however, when a person might feel the need for some added assistance from an experienced teacher. 

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to be in the same physical location as a good teacher. John Panarese's audio tutorials very well may be what many of these people are looking for. The Mac for the Blind tutorials may not be the least expensive offerings on the market, but it is worth pointing out once again that Panarese is an experienced trainer who has been certified by Apple. He brings his many years of practical experience to his tutorials, and the professional audio editing done by P&D Audio is the icing on the cake.

As I worked through the various tutorials available for Mac and iOS, I was struck by Panarese's warm, engaging style, as well as his knowledge of the material covered. He was careful to point out that his was not the only way to accomplish a given task, but he frequently explained why he chose one approach over another. 

Since purchasing every tutorial on the site all at once could be a bit costly, I recommend working through free or lower-cost resources first in order to determine the areas where you feel that you need extra assistance. You can then purchase the Mac for the Blind tutorials that meet your specific needs. 

Panarese plans to release more tutorials in the future, so be sure to check the site often in order to see what has been added.

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Again that article is entitled, “Product Reviews and Guides: Learning to Use VoiceOver on the Mac and iOS with Audio Tutorials from Mac for the Blind.”

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