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Creating Accessible, Fillable PDF Forms


Donovan Myers

By Donovan Myers


One of the common things we find when scanning a site for accessibility issues are linked PDFs that are not accessible. It may seem daunting to create or update your existing PDFs in an accessible format, but Adobe Acrobat provides Accessibility tools to do just that.

Before you start editing your PDFs in Adobe Acrobat, it’s important to make sure the base text (usually generated in Microsoft Word) is the best it can be. If you’re using a scanned document as your base, you will likely need to recreate it because it does not contain any text readable by a screen reader. The best tip we can give for creating a form layout in Microsoft Word is to use tables with borders rather than creating ‘blanks’ using a series of underscores (e.g. _________).

Once you have a clean, Word-based starting point, save it as a PDF and open that PDF in Adobe Acrobat.

The embedded video goes in-depth into using Adobe Acrobat to create a fillable form and using the Accessibility tools to make it readable with a screen reader and navigable keyboard.

The general Adobe Acrobat Pro DC workflow is outlined below:

  1. Use the Prepare Form tool to create your input fields. Make sure to provide the Tooltip for the fields for accessibility.
  2. Use the Accessibility tool’s Full Check option to see if you have any accessibility errors. Maybe alternative text on images and probably issues with your new fillable form fields being tagged. Correct any document title and alternative text on images.
  3. Use the Accessibility tool’s Tag panel to remove any empty tags that were generated by Word’s blank lines. Remove any tables used for layout.
  4. Create a new Tag of the type Form to hold your form fields. Use the Find… option to find Unmarked Annotations which will locate all of your new form fields.
  5. If you have any plain text that should be made into a label for your form field groups, select it and choose Create Tag from Selection to tag that so it will be spoken by the screen reader.
  6. Use the Accessibility tool’s Tag panel to arrange the tags in the proper reading order for the page.
  7. Save your PDF and test with Voice Over (Mac OS X), NVDA (Windows), or your other screen reader of choice.

If all of this is too confusing, seems to difficult, or you do not have access to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, we will happily convert your PDFs to be accessible. Please contact us for an estimate or pricing information.

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