I was recently granted a loan of an early 2011-model 15-inch Mac Book Pro for evaluation on behalf of Acb Radio's Main Menu program which I currently produce and host. My curiosity about using the Mac with VoiceOver has increased over the past couple years or so as I have listened to a myriad of podcasts and tutorials on using the product. As I interviewed people about the Mac, it became increasingly apparent to me that the only way I could continue to ask new questions about the process of using a Mac with a screen reader was to actually play with one myself. One can only learn so much through second-hand information. When I learned that I would be evaluating a Mac for a month, I began counting down the days excitedly. Any chance to play with new technology is one I will not pass up.
When the package arrived at my door this morning at about 10:30, I began the painstaking process of opening a box that did not actually belong to me. Much more care was needed to preserve the integrity of this package than most, but all went well. After the box was finally opened, the unpacking of the equipment was much as it always is--packing material, cords, manuals, and trying to make sure nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
Having listened to more than one Mac setup podcast, I was not surprised but still very pleased to hear the familiar voice of Alex, the text-to-speech engine that is the default when a Mac is first turn on out of the box. I was struck by the fact that I had to do nothing special to make this happen--it just did!
I worked my way through the VoiceOver tutorial and set up the Mac with no problems at all. I quickly explored the dock and opened Safari. I was struck with how similar using VoiceOver on the Mac was compared to using VoiceOver on my iPod Touch; the transition was almost seamless. I was comfortable enough with Safari to log into my bank's Web site and transfer money from our home checking account to savings with no misgivings whatsoever. Finally, I adjusted some VoiceOver settings which included telling VoiceOver to speak at the log on screen.
As interested as I was in my own initial reaction to using a Mac, I was equally interested in my sighted wife Stacie's reaction. She has an aversion to most technology and especially hates computers. The one exception to her general dislike of technology is her iPod which she absolutely loves! When Stacie came home from work, I showed her how to turn VoiceOver off and allowed her to play with the computer. I had no way to guide her in using the Mac as I barely knew how to do the basics with a screen reader running, let alone trying to help her figure out what was going on visually. Stacie began surfing the Web on the Mac as though she had done it every day for a year. She was intrigued with Face Time and spent some time on Face Book as well. She confirmed that the snapshot I had taken of myself during account setup was satisfactory and then she gave the computer back to me.
I placed a CD into the computer to demonstrate the quality of the Mac Book's speakers. Navigating iTunes for the first time was a bit tricky. I was finally able to play the CD and search the help text to find out how to eject the CD when I was finished with it. It never occurred to me to simply explore the menus. It's funny how a little stress can cause one not to think clearly enough to solve a simple problem.
Since my wife and I had an appointment later in the evening, I shut the computer down and rested my mind a bit before leaving the house.
My first impressions of the Mac in general and VoiceOver in particular are quite favorable. I was able to rearrange my work schedule so that I could take today and tomorrow off, so day two of my journey with the Mac should be full of excitement. Stay tuned!