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Mac: Accessible Reading Systems and Apps

Last updated: June 14, 2023

The following sections will highlight accessible reading apps for Mac operating systems. Each app’s section will include which formats it supports, how to open and read a book using that app, and some advantages and disadvantages of each app.

The NNELS website features several tutorials for accessing and using other reading platforms. One of these may be used by your local library and could provide access to another collection of books.

Reading Systems and Apps

  1. Apple Books
  2. Thorium Reader
  3. Voice Dream Reader

Apple Books

Comes with MacOS or download from the Mac App Store

Cost: Free

Supports: EPUB

Books is Apple’s ebook and audiobook reading app for various Apple devices, including MacOS. As you might expect from an Apple app, it is designed to synchronize across all your devices. This makes all your books available on any device, and your current position is synced so you can resume reading where you left off no matter which device you are on. You can purchase books from Apple’s bookstore or import books you downloaded elsewhere, such as from NNELS.

Although Apple Books supports audiobooks, it does not recognize the audiobook formats NNELS produces. EPUB is the only format supported for books obtained from NNELS.

To open and read a book in Apple Books:

  1. Launch Apple Books.
  2. Open the menu bar, navigate to the file menu and select “Import…”.
  3. A standard MacOS open file dialogue will appear. Locate the book you want to import and press the “Import” button. You will be returned to the Apple Books app.
  4. Locate the “All” collection and interact with it. You will find a list of your books, including the one you just imported: Press “VO + space” or “command + O” to open it. The book will open to the first page.
  5. Locate and interact with the “Book Content” element to start reading. You can then use standard VoiceOver keystrokes or gestures to navigate and read the contents, including “VO+A,” which will read all the currently visible contents.
  6. The page will turn when you navigate past the end of the currently visible page. VoiceOver will announce “in loading page numbers” when this happens. Do note that the page will not automatically turn when you get to the end of the page while reading all with “VO+A;” you will need to press “VO+A” again, which will turn the page and read all of the following pages.
  7. The toolbar contains buttons for searching the book and bookmarking the current page. Interact with the toolbar to access them.
  8. Also in the toolbar are radio buttons for accessing the table of contents, bookmarks, and notes and highlights. After selecting one, stop interacting with the toolbar and interact with the table which will have appeared. Selecting a landmark within the table will jump to the corresponding page of the book.

Once imported, books will remain in Apple Books unless you delete them. To resume reading a book you previously started, launch Apple Books and either locate the “Current and Recent” group or interact with the sidebar and select “All” under “Library” and then interact with the “All” collection. When you resume reading a book, it will open to the page you were on when you last closed it.


  • Free to download and use. It may even be on your device already without having to be downloaded.
  • Synchronizes via iCloud for a seamless experience across all your Apple devices.
  • Supports image descriptions and table of contents navigation.


  • Some elements, such as tables and footnote links, do not have proper accessibility support.
  • Cannot read continuously with VoiceOver. You can read a page at a time at most before having to press something to continue.

Thorium Reader

Thorium Reader Software

Cost: Free

Supports: EPUB, DAISY, PDF

Thorium Reader is an ebook reader designed to take advantage of the accessibility features of content. It recognizes and allows a screen reader to speak accessibility metadata, image descriptions, headings, and other attributes designed for nonvisual accessibility. Other metadata is also supported, enabling features such as access to a book’s table of contents.

Thorium Reader is primarily a text reader. It does not support audio-only formats, including DAISY. DAISY books must contain text for Thorium Reader to access them. Thorium Reader can play the audio if a DAISY book contains both text and audio. Audio-only DAISY will import but not play.

Thorium Reader uses a web view for its interface, which means navigating it will feel much like browsing a website, and you can use single-key quick nav keystrokes, such as pressing “H” to jump to headings.

To open and read a book in Thorium Reader:

  1. Launch Thorium Reader.
  2. Interact with the web content area, then navigate to and press the “Import a publication” button.
  3. A standard MacOS open file dialogue will appear. Locate the book you want to import and press the “Open” button. You will hear a sound and an announcement when the book is finished importing.
  4. Navigate to and press the link containing the book title you just added. The book will open to the first page.
  5. The contents will be within a frame within the screen's main region. If you are reading an EPUB, VoiceOver’s focus is automatically placed in the frame, and one section or chapter will be displayed at a time. Otherwise, you will have to navigate to and interact with the frame containing the book's entire contents.
  6. You can read the contents using standard VoiceOver keystrokes or gestures, including “VO+A,” which will begin reading everything in the frame.
  7. To flip to the next section or chapter of an EPUB, stop interacting with the frame and press the “Right” button. The “Left” button next to it will flip to the previous section or chapter. When moving to the next chapter, VoiceOver’s focus will be placed in the frame.
  8. If reading an EPUB, the “Activate Text-To-Speech” button within the toolbar will start reading using a voice separate from VoiceOver. This will read continuously and advance to the next chapter automatically. However, VoiceOver will speak when advancing to the next chapter, causing you to hear two voices simultaneously if you do not minimize the window or silence your screen reader.
  9. If reading a DAISY book containing text and audio, the “Activate Readaloud” button will start playback of the included audio.
  10. While playing audio, controls will appear, letting you navigate backward or forward through the book and adjust the playback speed. Additional voice settings will be present if reading a text-only format using text-to-speech.
  11. A list within the toolbar contains options to search, place a bookmark, adjust settings, and access navigation. The latter is how you access the table of contents and any bookmarks you have placed.

Once imported, books will remain in Thorium Reader unless you delete them. To resume reading a book you previously started, launch Thorium Reader and skip ahead to step 4. The book will open to the chapter you were on when you last closed the book.


  • Supports accessibility metadata and attributes, allowing full access to any content that has been made fully accessible.
  • Free to download and use.
  • Supports website navigation quick keys.


  • App behaviour while reading text varies depending on the format, which is inconsistent and may be confusing.
  • Opening multiple books is unintuitive, and each opens in its own window.
  • When returning to a book, the focus is returned to the correct chapter but not always the correct place within the chapter.
  • VoiceOver interrupts while reading via text-to-speech unless the window is minimized or VoiceOver is silenced.

Voice Dream Reader

Download from the Mac App Store

Cost: $12.99 CAD per month or $63.99 CAD per year

Supports: MP3, DAISY, EPUB, PDF, DOC

Voice Dream Reader is an ebook and audiobook reading app designed for blind and low-vision readers. It supports both MP3 and DAISY audiobooks from NNELS, and they do not need to be extracted from their zip files. It also supports reading EPUB, PDF, and DOC files using VoiceOver or via audio playback using a separate voice. However, the implementation of this is rather buggy and is not intuitive to use. It is recommended to use a different app to read books in text formats or to use Voice Dream Reader on iOS, which does not have these problems.

If you wish to attempt reading books in text formats using Voice Dream Reader, be aware that it does not support accessibility for images, skippable structures, or other non-text elements within text formats. It is, therefore, not recommended for books that rely on this content type.

To open and read a book in Voice Dream Reader:

  1. Launch Voice Dream Reader.
  2. Press “command + I,” or navigate to the “Add to Library” button and press it.
  3. A standard MacOS open file dialogue will appear. Locate the book you want to import and press the “Open” button. You will be returned to Voice Dream Reader, and your book will be imported.
  4. Navigate to and interact with the “Library Documents” grid view. In this grid view, locate the book you want to open and press enter.
  5. When your book opens, VoiceOver’s focus may initially be placed within the toolbar. If this happens, stop interacting with it so VoiceOver focus can navigate the rest of the window.
  6. To read the text of a book, navigate to the right past the toolbar and vertical splitters until you locate the element containing the book's text. You can use standard VoiceOver keystrokes for reading and navigating text. Note that your VoiceOver speech may lag, or you may randomly lose your position within the book while attempting this.
  7. To play an audiobook or read a book's text using self-voicing audio playback, press “space” or navigate to and press the “Play” button. You can rewind or fast forward by pressing “command + left or right” or pressing the “Rewind” and “Fast Forward” buttons.
  8. To change the audio playback speed and the voice used for reading text, interact with the toolbar and press the “Audio Settings” button. Make any changes, then press “ESC.”
  9. To access a book’s table of contents, interact with the toolbar and press the “Toggle Locations Sidebar” button. Exit the toolbar and select either the “Headings” or “Bookmarks” radio button, then explore the table to access the various landmarks. Your position within the book will automatically move as you focus on each landmark; you do not need to manually press one to jump to it.

Once imported, books will remain in Voice Dream Reader unless you delete them. To resume reading a book you previously started, launch Voice Dream Reader and skip ahead to step 4. The book will open to the position you were in when you last closed the book.


  • Supports both audiobook formats offered by NNELS.
  • Supports iCloud synchronization across all of your devices.


  • Expensive.
  • Text reading is buggy.
  • Does not support EPUB accessibility features such as image descriptions or skippable structures.

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