United States Department of Veterans Affairs
Section 508 Support Office

Creating Accessible PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Professional

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Designing Accessible Forms

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Electronic forms are an ever-growing method of retrieving information from consumers and participants. Forms contain a variety of elements and all must have accessibility attributes applied. Radio buttons, checkboxes, edit fields, submit and reset buttons, error messages, requirement constraints and many more items need proper labeling, grouping, instructions, and must be provided in a logical reading and tab order. Forms may seem like a complex topic, but managing each item individually simplifies the process of adding accessibility to a form. All step-by-step instructions in this topic are based on the features available in Acrobat Professional XI.

Structure and Best Practice

The structure of form fields is actually quite simple. All that is required is a <Form> tag with a nested Field Name – OBJR tag. In the Tags pane the form tags need to appear after the tag containing the text label of the field. The <Form> tag distinguishes a type of element and allows AT to interpret how to handle the upcoming content. The Field Name – OBJR tag allows the field to be keyboard accessible. This is also where attributes, such as labels, need to be applied to make the field accessible.
Example form structure in the tags tree
It is best to not require a timed response on forms when possible. A disability can impact a person’s ability to navigate and fill out a form in a timely manner. Online auctions or activities, such as exams where the validity of the activity requires a time constraint, are exceptions to the rule. If it is necessary to require a time limit, the user should be permitted to turn off, adjust or extend the time allowance. If a mechanism is put in place to allow the user to extend the time, at least 10 seconds needs to be permitted for a response before the form expires.

Positioning and Grouping

Low vision users can have difficulty tracking items on the screen. Since they are only seeing a portion of their screen at any given time, it can be difficult to know where and whether actionable elements are present. Form elements need to be positioned to the left of each text label. When this is performed, users are able to track the items because the actionable elements are at the same position and spacing on each line.
Checkboxes properly positioned to the left of each Yes and No label respectively

Left positioning is essential for checkboxes and radio buttons. Other form elements should be to the right of the label, such as edit fields, list boxes and drop-down boxes, most of the time. These elements are usually found to the right of the label because they occupy different amounts of space; therefore, with them on the right the labels line-up. There are a few exceptions to the rule. As long as a search field properly indicates its purpose, a search edit field should be to the left of its corresponding button. In the case of drop-down boxes, depending on their purpose, they may be best served on the left or right. For example, a matching exercise where the answer options are A-E in the drop-down should appear to the left of its label. This is a valid practice because the form element is not utilizing a lot of space and all the controls will line up.

Often related fields are visually grouped together on a page or duplicate fields are provided for different purposes, such as billing and shipping addresses. It is important to remember in PDF forms to add the visual group name to the beginning of the tooltip name. For example, a field’s proper tooltip would say “Billing First Name” or “Shipping Zip Code”. How to apply a tooltip is discussed in the Reading Order and Labeling section.

Tooltip says Billing - First & Last Name for the Billing Name field

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