Dragging and Dropping Items with VoiceOver on macOS

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Intro

If you use a Mac, at some point or another, you will need to drag an item from one place to another. You could be, among other things, trying to move a file, reorder a list, or attach photos and other files to a document.

While there is no, “Magic solution,” to drag and drop with VoiceOver, there are several methods you can employ that just might work to accomplish the task at hand. These tips come predominantly from my own personal use, as literature on how to do this is rather scarce. Therefore, if you know of additional tips and tricks, sound off in the comments.

Option one: find an alternative to drag and drop

While instructional materials for apps and macOS itself may say to perform a task by dragging and dropping something, there may be alternatives depending on the task. The most common of these is copy and paste, which can be used to relocate files in Finder, attach files to email messages, or attach photos to email messages via the photo browser, among other uses.

The process of copying and pasting items generally involves selecting them as you normally would, pressing Command C or choosing Edit > Copy, and opening or focusing on the destination location and pressing Command V or choosing Edit > Paste.

Tip: if you’re moving files in Finder, you can press Command Option V instead of Command V to move, rather than copy the files on the clipboard so they only appear in the new location.

If you want to cut text or images in a document, select them and press Command X to cut. Navigate to the location you want them and press Command V to paste.

Option two: use VoiceOver’s drag and drop facility

With the release of OS X Lion in 2011, Apple added drag and drop functionality to VoiceOver.

In theory, this feature allows you to mark an item, navigate to the location you want it, and drop it either before, on, or after the position of the VoiceOver curser. In my experience, however, I have not found it to be particularly reliable, with VoiceOver reporting that it is unable to mark or drop marked items.

Furthermore, this feature hasn’t gotten any attention from Apple since its introduction, seemingly indicating that Apple does not intend to put any more thought into it. However, if you come upon a situation where copy and paste is not available, it just might work; who knows.

To mark an item, navigate to it and press VO Comma. If the item is inside a table or other element, you may need to interact with that element first. Then, navigate to the location you want to move the item to and do one of the following:

  • drop item before VoiceOver curser: VO Shift Comma
  • drop item at VoiceOver curser: VO Period
  • drop item after VoiceOver curser: VO Shift Period

Sometimes, it is necessary to hold down a specific modifier key, like Shift or Option, in order to alter the default behavior. To do this with VoiceOver, navigate to the item you want to drag and hold down VO Comma, and select the key from the drag and drop modifier menu. Then drop the item as described above.

Option three: use the mouse down command

As an alternative to VoiceOver’s standard drag and drop facility, items can be dragged by locking the mouse down and navigating to the location you want them. To do this, follow these steps.

  1. Navigate to the item you want to drag. If it is inside a table or other element, you may need to interact with that element first.
  2. Route the mouse pointer to the item by pressing VO Command F 5, or VO Function Command 5 if you’re using a Mac with a Touch Bar.
  3. Lock the mouse down by pressing VO Command Shift Space.
  4. Move to the location you want the item and route the mouse pointer by pressing VO Command F 5, or VO Function Command 5 if you’re using a Mac with a Touch Bar.
  5. Unlock the mouse by pressing VO Command Shift Space.

Conclusion

As said in the beginning of this guide, the process of moving items via drag and drop as a Mac VoiceOver user is, well, quite a drag. However, with these tips, hopefully you will figure out what method works to accomplish a given task.

This happens to be an area where I think Apple could improve by taking cues from VoiceOver on iOS and iPadOS. In iOS and iPadOS, when moving apps on the home screen, for example, you can easily mark items via the actions rotor, navigate to the location you want them, and choose from a number of options for easy placement. With the release of OS X Mavericks in 2013, Apple introduced an actions menu to VoiceOver, accessed by pressing VO Command Space. This, in my view, would be a much better destination for easy to use, reliable drag and drop options than current implementations provide.

Until such a time that Apple takes my feature suggestion, happy dragging.

If you have any questions or believe any of the information in this guide is inaccurate, sound off in the comments.

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Disclaimer

The guide on this page has generously been submitted by a member of the AppleVis community. As AppleVis is a community-powered website, we make no guarantee, either express or implied, of the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this guide.

5 Comments

drag and drop in Logic

Club AppleVis Member

in Logic, drag and drop is required to add an audio file from the itunes store into a project. you have to buy tracks, Apple Music tracks will not work. very nice guide.

I've never ever gotten drag

I've never ever gotten drag and drop to work in Mojave or Catalina. I wanted it to use transitions in iMovie that require dragging and dropping, but to no avail after days of trying on and off. Good to know it wasn't just me being a moron. Having extra time with my Mac during these times is making me think I should have bought an ipad instead.

Dock

The only time I have had success with VO Drag & Drop is on the Dock, and it works well enough in Catalina. I am tempted to think that is the only reason for its existence.
I agree with you that the Copy/Move and Paste is tried an true, and you really cannot go wrong. A simple CMD plus 'z' will let you undo any accidents you might make.
Also, for the more experienced users out there, and I tend to fall in this category, is to use the Terminal to CP, and MV files. If you are comfortable with Terminal, those commands are 'powerful'.
Hope this helps! Great post. :)

I think your feature

I think your feature suggestion is a good one, but even so, I find the voiceover drag and drop to be much better than the implementations on Windows screen readers. On Windows, I always had to find sighted help, while on Mac, I can almost always accomplish what I am trying to do.

...

straightforward drag-and-drop isn't hard at all, when all failed, one can still copy and paste. the problem is when one really need to drag-and-drop, this usually involves moving item to a different window, dragging a file into an application, for example.
unfortunately, this is essentially impossible

GUI is still GUI, you know, screen reader just doesn't cut it. a touch screen interface like the iphone might be possible.