Double tap is a new flagship feature of the new Apple Watch. But some folks will recognise it as recycled rather than new. That’s because it looks an awful lot like an evolution of existing accessibility feature AssistiveTouch. Which is good – Apple should do more to surface useful accessibility benefits.

As someone who’s spent a decade fighting for better accessibility features, I’m fairly well versed in what’s on offer. What people perhaps aren’t aware of is that you needn’t wait for Apple to bring an accessibility feature to the mainstream for more people to find it useful – loads of great stuff is in there already.

Something I make use of daily, and that always sparks interest when I mention it on social media, is proofing copy using speech features on Mac and iPad. I find that when text is read to me, I pick up more errors than I would from reading it silently myself.

On Mac, open System Settings and head to Accessibility > Spoken Content. Under System voice, you can choose from a number of voices and accents. I find those that present as female offer more clarity, due to being less bassy. Kate is a good option for Brits. But also, consider using accents that align with audiences when writing for people beyond your own country. Anyway, to add more voices, go to Manage Voices…

To preview how your voice sounds, press Play Sample. I find the default speed too slow for proofing and tend to increase it to about 75%.

Next, turn on Speak selection, click the info button, and gnash at how horrible this interface is compared to the System Preferences days. Create a keyboard shortcut to trigger speech selection. Make this memorable, accessible and something that won’t clash with shortcuts used elsewhere. I use Control+§  – § being the ‘section’ sign at the top-left of UK-English keyboards. You probably never use it.

Also set Show controller to Never, or it will appear whenever you use the feature. The remaining settings determine how your Mac visually keeps track of your place in the text as it’s being spoken. Settings here are a matter of taste. I tend to have Spoken Content highlight words and sentences – yellow for words; purple for sentences; background colour for style. 

Once you’re done, position your cursor in a document at the point you’d like the Mac to start reading from and use your shortcut. A second press will stop it speaking. You can also select text and have the Mac read just that selection.

Not all apps and websites behave. I’ve never been able to get Google Docs to work with Spoken Content in Safari, but it works in Chrome when you select text. (A good workaround is to hurl Google Docs into the sun and use something else.)

Note that iPad has Spoken Content as well. In Settings, go to Accessibility > Spoken Content and turn on both Speak Selection and Speak Screen. Adjust Typing Feedback and Voices preferences to suit.

When selecting and tapping a selection, you’ll see a Speak option. Alternatively, two-finger swipe down from the top of the screen (from the bezel) to read the entire document. This doesn’t work as well as the Mac equivalent, but it’s better than nothing. Of course, it doesn’t work with Google Docs. Tsk.

On Windows and/or using Microsoft Word? Search online for ‘read aloud’, which is in broadly the same space.