macOS Basics for Users with Low Vision

macOS (the operating system on Apple desktop and laptop computers, has various inbuilt options to make the platform accessible to people who have low vision. 


Zoom is the inbuilt magnifier utility in macOS. It can be used in either full screen or a lens mode when moving around the screen.

Turning Zoom On and Off

  • Press OPTION+COMMAND+8 to turn Zoom on and off. 
  • Press OPTION+COMMAND+EQUALS to increase magnification
  • Press OPTION+COMMAND+MINUS to decrease magnification
  • Press OPTION+COMMAND+\ (Backslash) to smooth images

You can change various settings relating to Zoom in System Preferences:

  1. Click on the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen
  2. Choose System Preferences 
  3. Choose Accessibility
  4. Select Zoom on the left side of the screen

Zoom follows the keyboard focus allows you to track where you are on the screen when using the keyboard rather than the mouse. This is useful when typing, when in menus and when on the web.

Zoom style changes whether zoom is in Full screen or Lens, which means does the full screen move around or just a single lens. 

The Options button gives you more advanced Zoom options 

Maximum and Minimum zoom change how far in / out Zoom magnifies when you enable Zoom and increase or decrease magnification. It is worthwhile experimenting with these options to find settings that best suit your particular situation. 

When zoomed in, the screen images moves: allows you to control when Zoom pans or moves the screen. These options are personal preferences and it may be worth experimenting. Some users like the ‘So the pointer is at or near the centre of the screen’ as this option keeps the mouse pointer in the middle of the screen and makes it easier to locate. 

When you have finished changing / reviewing settings, close this dialogue box by clicking on Ok. 

Inverting Colours 

macOS allows you to invert the screen colours – meaning that every colour is reverse. This is useful when you may find the white background with black text harder to see. Inverting the colours means a document would have a black background with white text. 

The keyboard shortcut to turn this feature on and off is disabled by default in macOS so you will need to enable it. Follow the steps below to do this (this is a one time only process. 

  1. Open System Preferences 
  2. Select Keyboard
  3. Select Shortcuts 
  4. Select Accessibility on the left side of the screen 
  5. Find Invert Colours on the right and tick the box to the left of this option. 

Turning Invert Colours On and Off 

The keyboard command to toggle Invert Colours is CTRL+OPTION+COMMAND+8 

NOTE: This option uses a technology called Smart Invert so it attempts to preserve photos and videos where possible. 

Changing the Mouse Cursor Size 

Sometimes the mouse cursor can be difficult to see/locate. macOS has a simple slider control that you can use to modify the size of the mouse curosr. 

  1. Go to System Preferences
  2. Choose Accessibility 
  3. Choose Display 
  4. There is a slider labelled ‘Cursor size’ – move this up and down until you find a size that works for you. Once finished, you can simply close System Preferences, you do not need to save changes or apply settings. 

Also in the Display section of Accessibility, there’s an option to Increase Contrast and there’s a contrast slider. It is worth experimenting with these options to help with making the display easier to see. 

NOTE on Automatically adjusting brightness – by default in macOS there is a setting to automatically adjust the brightness. As some users with low vision move closer to the screen, it may be worth considering turning this option off. When a person moves closer to the computer, this can cause the operating system to adjust the brightness as it may appear that it is getting darker. 

You can change this setting in System Preferences under Displays 

Display Scaling 

Changing the screen resolution is a useful method in increasing the overall size of the Mac. 

To do this, go to System Preferences, choose Displays and select the Scaled option. You can change the various options here to change the overall size of the contents of your screen. 

NOTE: Changing resolution will affect all windows and you may need to readjust window sizes to accomodate any new settings. 

NOTE: The brightness setting in this section may also be useful to adjust the brightness to a desired level. 

Zooming Within Apps 

Some apps, such as web browsers, offer the option to change the zoom level within the app. Safari, for example, allows you to use COMMAND+PLUS and COMMAND+MINUS to change the zoom level on the screen.

You can also use COMMAND+0 (zero) to revert back to 100% zoom level. 

Pages allows you to change it’s zoom level by pressing SHIFT+COMMAND+GREATER THAN and SHIFT+COMMAND+LESS THAN (< and >). This is useful as it can drastically increase the size of text within a document without having to change the font size. 

It is worth looking at apps you use regularly to see what zoom options there are. 

Dark Mode 

Since macOS Mojave, Apple have introduced a theme called Dark Mode. This allows you to change the colours of most Apple apps, including menus, dialogue boxes and in most cases the main windows. It can be useful but it should be noted it is not as comprehensive as Smart Invert. 

For example, on the web in Safari, web pages will still retain a white background in Dark Mode. 

To enable Dark Mode: 

  1. Go to System Preferences
  2. Choose General
  3. Select Dark Mode

General Tips and Tricks 

  • Use column view in the Finder windows (COMMAND+3) to reduce visual clutter and help with list navigation
  • Use the Reader view in Safari when you find articles – press COMMAND+SHIFT+R
  • Use Stacks to keep your Desktop organised. In Finder, choose View, Use Stacks. Stacks organises your desktop by putting items into category based smart folders. 
  • Learn keyboard commands – COMMAND+TAB to move between apps, COMMAND+Q to quit an app, COMMAND+` (tilda) to move between open windows within an app, there are so many time saving keyboard commands you can use in macOS.