Tackling disabled Dictation in Mountain Lion

The inability to enable Dictation services in OS X may be from faulty Parental Controls settings.

One of Apple's newer features in OS X is the Dictation service that was introduced in Mountain Lion, which allows you to speak phrases and have the system enter it as text in entry fields. While useful in certain situations, some people who have tried using the service have found it to be unavailable on their systems.

When accessing the "Dictation & Speech" system preferences, instead of being able to click the on or off buttons, these options are grayed out, even in administrative accounts that ought to have full access to system services.

The Dictation service does require an available microphone, so if the system is making the dictation service unavailable to you, then first check if your microphone is attached and working. In the Dictation system preferences, you will see a purple icon of a microphone, which should be pulsing in response to ambient sounds in the room (taps, claps, and talking). If this icon is not pulsing at all, then try selecting a different microphone source in the menu beneath it.

Microphone settings can also be adjusted in the Sound system preferences and by using Apple's Audio MIDI Setup utility (in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder). If the microphone is missing in these preferences and utilities, then check its connection and power options to ensure it is working properly.

If the microphone appears to be working fine, then this problem may stem from a fault with the parental controls settings in OS X. Apple's Parental Controls are intended to manage user accounts and prevent access to restricted content and system services, with one being the dictation service.

To fix this problem or similar ones where a service that can be managed by the parental controls is not accessible, try clearing your account's parental controls settings. Your first option is to try toggling parental controls settings to have the system overwrite relevant configuration files and have them be used properly, which can be done with the following procedure:

  1. Create a new admin account and log into it.
  2. Revoke the admin status from the problematic account.
  3. Toggle the parental controls settings to enable and disable them for the account.
  4. Give the account administrative status again.
  5. Log out of your new admin account and back into your standard account.

After this is done, the account should have access to all system services, but if you still cannot access Dictation then you might try manually removing the entire collection of parental controls configuration files for your account. Open a Finder window and go to the /Macintosh HD/Library/Managed Preferences/ folder, in which you will see a folder for each user that has parental controls set. If one exists for your account, remove it, followed by logging out and then back into your account.

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