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Creating Accessible PDF Forms Using Adobe Acrobat

A traditional print form that is intended to be filled out by hand is inherently inaccessible to people who can’t see it and to people who don’t have sufficient manual dexterity to fill in the form fields with pen or pencil.

Therefore, the best form for accessibility is one that is interactive and can be completed using the computer. Users with disabilities can complete these forms using assistive technologies such as screen readers, Braille devices, speech recognition systems, alternative keyboards, and countless others.

Like all documents though, electronic forms are not automatically accessible. Key considerations when creating an electronic interactive form are:

  1. Labels and prompts must be explicitly associated with the fields they represent. Otherwise, users who can’t see the form may be unable to tell which labels and prompts accompany which fields.
  2. The tab order must be logical. As users navigate through a form using the keyboard, they typically press tab to jump to the next field. Ensuring proper tab sequence helps the user to focus on filling out the form rather than struggling to find their place after losing it.

The following two workflows list the steps for creating a new form, and for fixing an existing form.

Creating Accessible PDF Forms Using Adobe Acrobat Pro

  • Do not create an interactive form using the original authoring tools’ form features
  • Do not create a tagged PDF
  • Use Acrobat Pro to make form fields interactive. Here's how:
    1. Automatically detect & markup form fields (Tools > Forms > Create)
    2. Manually add/edit and form fields that weren't correctly detected
    3. Check tab order; repair if needed
    4. Check all labels (tooltips); repair if needed
    5. Check group labels and options for radio buttons; repair if needed
    6. Check labels for checkboxes; repair if needed

Checking and Repairing an Existing PDF Form Using Adobe Acrobat Pro

  1. Is form interactive?
    • If no, proceed to Creating Accessible PDF Forms using Acrobat Pro
  2. Is tab order intuitive?
    • If no, correct it (Tools > Forms > Edit, play with Tab Order; select “Close Form Editing” when finished)
  3. Are all text fields appropriately labeled? How to tell:
    • Tools > Forms > Edit; look in Properties for ToolTip of each field, or
    • Tab through form using Read Out Loud (View > Read Out Loud > Activate Read Out Loud)
  4. To fix labels on text fields:
    • Right click on field; select Properties
    • Enter a detailed, easy-to-understand prompt as Tooltip
  5. Are radio buttons appropriately grouped and labeled?
    • All radio buttons in a set should have the same name
    • Tooltip is the overall prompt for the set (similar to legend in HTML)
    • Labels for individual radio buttons within the set are defined using the Button Value field in the Options tab
  6. Are checkboxes appropriately labeled?
    • Checkboxes can't be grouped like radio buttons. The workaround is to be sure the prompt for the overall set of checkboxes is clear within the tooltip for each option (for example, “Favorite Food: Tofu”, “Favorite Food: Steak”, “Favorite Food: Pizza”, etc.)
  7. Finishing touches
    • Tools > Document Processing > Create Links from URLs
    • Tools > Accessibility > Add Tags To Document
    • Repair tags as needed
    • Tools > Accessibility > Full Check

Most Details from this page were gleaned from the University of Washington's Accessible Technology section.