How micro automations attached to VoiceOver’s commanders save me lots of time and key presses

In the majority of cases, , technology exists to speed up a task one finds themselves doing often, thus improving one’s life. Many of us now use computers, which do many things faster than we possibly could ever do by ourselves. Recently I wrote about adding keyboard shortcuts to macOS apps. In the podcast  Automators episode 86, Rosemary Orchard used the phrase micro automations, small automations requiring only a few lines of script code, things Rosemary feels many computer users could write or use, even if not programmers. On the Mac though probably on its way out, is automator, a program people can use to make macros of tasks they repetitively perform, but Keyboard Maestro is much better, especially after its new release version 10 last month. Bunch by Brett Terpstra may be another automagical gem that just needs time to catch on. iOS users have had Shortcuts, formerly Workflow, for some time, and now we finally have them also on macOS. there are several more automation secrets hidden inside macOS, like three tools inside VoiceOver I use every day. i have always felt VoiceOver users should be using these as much as they can, they have saved me a bunch of time for sure.

For VoiceOver users, one of the areas where they probably lose the most time repetitively is in switching apps. They can go to the dock and use first letter navigation, or bring up a list of apps as a VoiceOver command (control-option-f1 twice). Any macOS user can use spotlight, or a third party launcher like LaunchBar or Alfred, or pressing command tab, but although relatively quick these methods are still not instant as clicking with a mouse might be.

VoiceOver is a screen reader, but as all advanced modern screen readers have in some way, there are a few extra tricks in the pony that can make the lives of screen reader users more efficient. Mice can be quick, living or digital, but keyboard presses can beat even Speedy Gonzales any day. VoiceOver has 3 tools called Keyboard Commander, Numpad Commander, and Trackpad Commander, and together they can do a lot to make experiences smoother for the VO user. Although they have slightly different names, they all behave similarly both in setting up and in their use.

The three commanders can perform any VoiceOver command, including some that officially don’t even have a key press built in. They can also open apps, and this saves me tons of time every day. I have about 15 apps I use daily that I have all attached to VoiceOver Commander key presses and/or key presses plus trackpad gestures in Trackpad Commander cases. if I were a sighted Mac user, I would want the power found in these commander tools, even if I didn’t need a screen reader. Keyboard, Numpad, and Trackpad Commanders, can also run any scripting language your Mac environment might currently support. This saves me even more time.

My simplest Apple script brings the current finder window into focus, basically it moves VoiceOver focus from whatever other app i might be in, to the finder. It’s one line.
tell application “Finder” to activate
Open the macOS app “Script Editor”, paste that line in, save it and all you have to do next is add it to one of Vo’s commanders

On my Mac this script is attached to right option f, but if one would rather attach it to something in the Numpad Commander, or Trackpad Commander, it’s all a personal choice. If using Numpad Commander, instead of choosing a lower or upper case letter to pair with the right option key, they would be choosing one of the keys on the ten key keypad, along with a modifier key. The modifier can be the number 0 on the keypad, or the command, option, or control key. If using the Trackpad commander, any of the gestures one already knows to use with VoiceOver can be paired with one or more modifier keys, command, option or control.

After that has been decided, the only other thing is to tell voiceover in a very understandable set of menus if you want a VO command, or to open an app, or run a script.

If I have to use someone else’s mac at first I lost productivity because I didn’t have all of my VO commander shortcuts with me, then I learned that all of one’s VoiceOver settings are saved in files that can easily be saved, backed up, and copied to flash drives where they can be reloaded on new installs or someone else’s mac in a pinch.

Another Apple script I’d been wanting and just learned about last week is one to open the terminal to the same folder the finder is in. A little more complex than opening the finder, but still only 4 lines. Something easily understand and something non-programming users can set up. The script was originally written by Frank Vos, and shared in a blog post by Allison Sheridan.

tell application “Finder”
set myDir to POSIX path of (insertion location as alias)
do shell script “open -a \”Terminal\” ” & quoted form of myDir
end tell

As before, copy the 4 lines above into “script Editor” and save it. Then, after deciding which VO commander you want to use, attach it and enjoy.
I have a much more complicated bash script that speaks the battery status, which is much faster than finding the battery icon with VoiceOver in the menu bar; also, it’s only one key press instead of many. The possibilities are endless.

In Allison’s article, she also talked about downloading or making a pretty icon to attach the script to in the toolbar. If I were sighted, I’d probably care, but since I’m not, icons without text only make me sigh.

Finding ways to speed up tasks we do often is how computers can help us the most. VoiceOver commanders don’t have the power of Keyboard Maestro, but they’re built in to macOS and can be available in seconds after a clean install. Using a mac as a VoiceOver user means the conveniences of a mouse aren’t  convenient at all, but VoiceOver commanders can do much more than only to just make up for that.

If I were sighted, and didn’t need VoiceOver, there are ways to attach scripts to key presses and/or opening apps using Mac services, and now in macOS Monterey we have shortcuts., Happily, sighted readers are   still invited to join the party.

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