Drawing of three colorful highlighters.

Accessing bold, underline and italics on a Mac with VoiceOver: Activity

Can you solve the secret sentence by finding words in bold, italics, highlighted or italics?

Digital assignments and assessments frequently add visual features such as bold, underline or italics to indicate words that the student needs to find and identify in order to answer the question. Example: The assignment might be to read the text and write the definition of the underlined word. Can a student who relies on a screen reader find the underlined word? While screen readers can announce that the word has a visual attribute, by default these types of announcements are typically turned off. Listening to these announcements can become distracting when trying to focus on the content of the text. However, if the assignment or assessment requires the student to be able to identify the marked word, the student needs to know how to turn on and listen for text attributes!

Text Attributes

On a Mac, Text Attributes has three settings: Speak, Play Tone, and Do Nothing.

Screenshot of the Text Attribute popup menu with the options: Speak, Play tone, Do Nothing.

Why are there different options? Hearing all the attribute announcements distracts from the content and can be annoying when you simply want to read the text. However, having the attribute announced is helpful in when the student needs to focus on finding the the word that is marked or to know what type of attribute is there. (Example: When the student needs to know if the word underlined or in bold.) However, the Speak text attribute feature can distract the student from listening to the meat of the content. The Play Tone feature is more subtle: it is used to indicate that there is an attribute, but does not interfere when listening to the content.

The video below demonstrates the Speak text attribute option.

Change Text Attribute setting

With a Mac running VoiceOver, use VO + V to open the Text Attribute menu. Use the up or down arrows to navigate between the three options. When the VoiceOver focus is on the desired attribute, the press Escape key to exit.

The second video demonstrates how to change the Text Attribute and demonstrate the Play Tone feature.

Secret Sentence Activity

Ask the student to listen to the Dear Math Teacher document. This is the default, so the student hears only the text and does not need to change the attribute. The student should focus on the content of the document.

Next, ask the student to change the Text Attribute setting to Speak, then listen to the document again, picking out the words that are in bold, underline or in italics. The student may need to listen several times.

Next, try changing the Text Attribute setting to Play Tone. Compare the three options. What do you like best and why?

Finally, did the student pick out all the words that have an attribute? Put the words in order – what does it say? If necessary, have the student write down the words and then read the fun secret sentence!

Here is the Dear Math Teacher document:

Note: The Paths to Technology template does not allow underlined words, so the text below has substituted italics for the two underlined words. Use the attached document with your student.

Dear Math Teacher,

What does geometry have to do with life? When I grow up, I do not want to think about circumferences, finding the area of a trapezoid and the Pythagorean Theory. When will I ever need to solve for X? Your idea of fun is yours, not mine! I have my own idea of fun and it does not include math problems!

Shhh! Your student should discover this secret sentence through the activity above! The secret sentence from the Dear Math teacher document is:

“Dear Math, grow up and solve your own problems!”

Download the Dear Math Teacher document here.

by Diane Brauner, 2/28/23

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