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Forms in documents

Online forms must be coded properly in order to be accessible. There a wide variety of issues that must be considered, and the form must be created with care.

For an overview of this issue, see Forms in our IT Accessibility Checklist.

Forms in Microsoft Word

It is currently impossible to create an accessible interactive form using Microsoft Word. Word can be used to create a form template, but must then be exported to PDF and interactive form controls added using Acrobat Pro. See below for information about creating accessible PDF forms.

If possible, it is always better to use HTML forms, as HTML has much more extensive support for the features that are necessary for making forms accessible. For additional information, see our Forms on websites page.

Forms in PDF

Interactive forms in PDF have some of the same core issues as forms on websites. Labels and prompts must all be created in a way that explicitly associates them with their corresponding form fields.  Also, PDF form fields have a tendency to be out of order, so it’s important to test the tab order of your form to be sure users will move through the form in a logical sequence when jumping between fields using the keyboard.

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