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How to use switches to control your computer in macOS 10.15 Catalina

How to use switches to control your computer in macOS 10.15 Catalina

This article contains the following sections:

Open Switch Control settings

  1. Select the Apple icon  in the top left corner of the screen.
  2. Select System Preferences from the menu.
    The Apple menu with System Preferences highlighted
  3. In the System Preferences window, select Accessibility.
  4. On the Accessibility settings screen, select Switch Control.
    The accessibility settings window with Switch Control highlighted
  5. To see what switches area available, select the Switches tab in the right column.
    The Switch Control preferences screen with the Switches tab highlighted
  6. You’ll see there is a default switch already set up - Space Input, which is used to select an item and is activated by pressing the Spacebar.

    You can change a switch’s name or its key by double-clicking on it in the list to open its settings.
    The Switches screen with Space Input selected

How to add a new switch

It is possible to control the whole computer with just one switch, but it is more convenient to have two or more. To add more switches:

  1. Select the Switches tab.
  2. Select the (plus) button.
    The Switches screen with the Add a switch button selected
  3. The system will ask you to “Press your switch now…”, your new switch can be a button on the mouse, a key on the keyboard, or a key or button on any other device that connects to your computer. In this example we will use the right arrow key of the keyboard.
  4. Give the new switch a name – for example, Next.
    The adda. new switch screen with options for naming the switch and the action to assign to it
  5. In the Action drop-down menu, select the action that the new switch will perform when it is triggered – for example, Move to the next item.
    The menu for choosing an action to assign to a new switch with 'Move To Next Item selected.
  6. You can also choose what happens if you press and hold the new switch. In the Press & hold drop-down menu you can choose Does nothing or Repeats current action.
    The menu for choosing what happens when you press and hold on the new switch
  7. When happy with your settings, select Done.

How to turn Switch Control on

  1. In the Switch control settings window, select the General tab in the right column.
  2. Tick the checkbox for Enable Switch Control.
    The Switch Control window with the checkbox for 'Enable Switch Control' highlighted
  3. The first time you enable Switch Control you may be asked to enter your computer user password at this point to give the computer permission to enable Switch Control

    After entering your password, the Home – Switch on-screen menu will appear. You can control this menu with the switch keys you defined before in Steps 6 – 13. In our example above we set-up Spacebar to select, and the Right Arrow key to go to the next item.
    The Switch Control on-screen menu

Switch Control menu options (the ‘Home - Switch’):

Menu icon Menu description
switch control menu -keyboard icon

Keyboard– control an on-screen keyboard

This will present an onscreen keyboard that will scan through groups of letters reducing the group size until you are able to select the desired letter.


switch control menu - pointer icon

Pointer – change the location of the pointer.

This will present a vertical line that will scan across the screen, press the switch and the line will stop and a horizontal line will scan down until the switch is pressed again at which point the cursor will move to where the two lines intersect. You can then perform actions such as a click, double-click and right-click using the switch options.


switch control menu - app icon

App – controls the application in use.

This scans through individual items or groups in the active window


switch control menu - dock icon

Dock – scans across the applications in the dock.

switch control menu - menubar icon

Menu bar– scans through the menus (File, Edit, View, etc.) of the application in use.


switch control menu - system icon

System – scans through options such as adjusting the volume, the playback of media, the brightness of the screen, etc.


switch control menu - custom icon

Custom – allows the control of custom panels you can create using Panel Editor.


switch control menu - location icon

Location – allows moving the Switch Control menu to different locations of the screen.


switch control menu - devices icon

Devices – allows you to control devices such as an iPhoneiPad and Apple TV using Switch Control on your computer.  Your computer and the device you wish to control must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network and must be signed in to the same iCloud account.


You can return to the Home – Switch menu by selecting the Home button (the house icon).
The Switch Control menu with the 'Home' button highlighted

You can adjust the size of each panel, and increase or decrease its transparency by selecting the Settings button (the cog icon) and navigating through the settings options.

The Switch Control menu with the 'Settings' button highlighted

Adjusting the navigation behaviour of the Switch Control menus

Note: We recommend spending some time using the switches before modifying their default behaviour.

  1. Select the Apple icon  in the top left corner of the screen.
  2. Select System Preferences from the menu.
    The Apple menu with System Preferences highlighted
  3. In the System Preferences window, select Accessibility.
  4. On the Accessibility settings screen, select Switch Control in the left column.
    The accessibility settings windows with Switch Control selected
  5. In the right column, select the Navigation tab.
    The Switch Control Navigations settings screen
  6. Choose your settings from the drop-down menus:
    • While navigating
      Have the switch names announced or play a sound while you navigate through the switches.  Choose from:
      • Do nothing
      • Speak selection
      • Play sounds
      • Speak and play sounds
    • Restart Position
      • After cursor
      • From start of group
      • From the top
    • Auto scanning after start
      By default, once you select a Switch Control option, scanning will stop.  With auto scanning set to Resume, scanning will resume as soon as the selected option loads – for instance, if you have selected another panel such as Keyboard,  switch control will immediately start looping through the keys. Choose from:
      • Do nothing
      • Resume
    • When pointer reaches the edge
      • Do nothing
      • Bounce back
  7. To adjust the timing of navigating the Switch Control menu, select the Timing button.
    The Switch Control Timings settings screen
  8. You can adjust the navigation timings in the pop-up window. 
  9. When happy with your settings, select OK.
  10. When you are finished, click the Close (red) button in the top left corner of the System Preferences window.

Note: If this does not work it could be because someone else manages your computer settings (an IT department or administrator). If this is the case, you will need to contact them to access these settings or for further help.

Switch Control panels

Panels are collections of configurable buttons that allow you to carry out various tasks on your computer with a single click, such as: entering text, opening an application, or performing mouse actions.

For more information on creating your own panels see the article: Creating Panels for using with Switch Control and The Accessibility keyboard in macOS 10.15 Catalina on this website.

More information

Apple’s Switch Control support page:

Apple's guide to the Panel Editor

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