How to fill out pdf forms with Adobe Reader for mac

You did not read the subject of this post wrong; we are going to talk about how to fill out pdf forms using Adobe Reader for mac.

Now don't think that Adobe has suddenly upped its game and made its pdf reader accessible to voice over after all of these years of ignoring us. Nothing has changed and the app is just as impossible with voice over as ever. However, I have figured out a way to use the app to fill out forms, as long as they are tagged. Now it is a little crude and funky, but I think it could be manageable.

Before I go into the finer points let me just say that I just figured out what I'm about to talk about; if it is already common knowledge and I am simply slow I apologize.

So the first thing you want to do after opening the app is to go into the menu bar, with vo m, go to the view menu, and then go to the very last sub menu in this section. This is the Read Out Loud submenu. Once in this menu turn on the Read Out Loud feature and keep in mind the few key strokes that are listed in this menu. After the Read Out Loud feature is turned on you should be able to hit command shift b to start reading the document. Warning getting the thing to start speaking has been the most tricky part of this process for me. Sometimes it seems to be shy at first. Try hitting the key strokes in the Read Out Loud submenu and anything els you can think of. From my experience once it starts talking it should behave as it is suppose to.
Of course by this point you are saying, why would I want this silly self voicing app to read pdf's? Its true that it is a silly self voicing app and Adobe should be ashamed that they think that is a bandaid for total lack of voice over compatibility. As far as simply reading text this app might be ok for putting on in the back ground, but for the most part you should look somewhere els like skim for reading. However, filling out forms is a different story.

If you are in a properly tagged pdf form you should be able to hit tab which will take the Read Out Loud focus to the next form element, just like in any other type of form. You will hear the tag for the element followed by the type of element, text field for example, and finally if there is any text in the field, or if the element has a status like checked or unchecked, the status will be read. unfortunately I do not believe there is any way to receive typing feed back, which is a bummer, but you can move away from text fields with shift tab and then tab and Read Out Loud should read whatever you have typed.

If you paid attention to what I was saying a moment ago about the status of elements being checked or unchecked you will notice that this process does work on some non text field elements; which, to the best of my knowledge is not the case for pdf pin, which is the only other option for filling out pdf's on the mac. In other words you can access check boxes and radio buttons with this app. I'm not sure if it works for every type of form element, but it has seem to work pretty well for me so far in my limited fiddling.

Finally let me rap up with a few settings you should look at. In the preferences of the app there are two sections that are important. These are the accessibility section and the reading section. I'm going to say what I have my relevant options set to, this does not mean that what I have selected is always the optimal choice for us, as I have said I'm still figuring this out. Feel free to change any setting and let me know if you find better options.

In the accessibility tab I have the Always use Page Layout Style option checked, I have Single Page Continuous selected, the Use document structure for tab order when no explicit tab order is specified is also checked. The Enable assistive technology support should be checked I would think.

For the reading tab options I have the following set up: Infer reading order from document. Override the reading order in tagged documents, For the, ironically, named, screen reader section page vs document option, I have mine set to read the entire document. I have my confirmed before tagging documents option unchecked.
I do not think it is important to state most of my Read Out Loud Options, such as the voice I am using, alex of course, I will simply point out you have some limited control over pitch speed and volume. The very last option, however, is very important' make sure you have the read form fields option checked.

Note, its important to stress that I can not remember which one of the above options are default and which ones I have changed. For all I know non of them even matter, I just thought it might be important to specify them.

In conclusion, why do I think it might be worth fiddling with this silly self voicing app? Well first of all we don't really have much choice on the mac. I mean literally for right now I believe it is either this or the much more expensive pdf pin when it comes to filling out pdf forms. It is true that you might get a better experience from pdf pin and I am very much for that option, but it can not do check boxes nor radio buttons. If you can get this app speaking and tabbing properly it really is not that bad. One possible work flow I picture would be something like, have a doc open in skim or preview for reading it, pdf pin for most form filling and Adobe Reader for check boxes and other such things. yes I know this is a ridiculous set up, but its the state of pdf forms on the mac.

An important thing to remember through all of this is no option on mac or windows can truly do the job unless the pdf document you are trying to fill out has been properly tagged for accessibility. This is something that the creator of the document in question has to have already done. Adobe Reader can attempt to try and tag files on its own, but I'm not sure how reliable that is. If you want a tagged file for testing you might try the pdf you can find at this link. Its the federal form for applying for an American social security card. if you don't want to click on my link, Which is very understandable, most federal forms should be tagged.

I know this has been long, but I thought it important to explain this silly self voicing app. If we can't fill out pdf forms on the mac we will never be able to totally be independent from windows. Thanks for reading this long winded, blended, rear ended post.


Thanks for this.

I'm researching filling out PDFs and came across your post. :)

Other apps to try

Thank you very much for the positive feedback. You might also try the icab mac app for reading and filling out pdfs. It's a web browser, but it has one of the better pdf readers on the mac. I worn you though, it seems to hang a lot with larger files. pdf pin is also another option.

Good luck, but at the end of the day, the mac still sucks when it comes to pdfs, so your best bet might be bootcamp, or a virtual machine.