Accessible PDFs and Fillable Forms

Making an accessible PDF is a multi-step process. The first set of steps are in the original source document. The second set are within Adobe Acrobat.

Original Source Document

  1. Never start with an inaccessible form that is a PDF. Always go to the original source—whether it was Word, Excel, or something else.
  2. If the document was originally a MS Word document, you should be able to open it by right-clicking on it and choosing Word under the “open with…” command.
  3. Make sure that the original document is accessible. Use the accessibility checker in:
    1. Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker
      1. Warning: the Accessibility Checker in Word has one flaw: If you don’t have any headings made by using the headings in the design ribbon, it will mark it as okay—but it isn’t.
        1. You must use the "Heading 1," "Heading 2," etc. choices in the design ribbon to make headings, not Bolding, italicizing, or underlining. Also, don’t use font changes.
        2. Use the Navigation Pane View to see if your headings show up.
      2. That’s because it only checks if the headings are out of order--not whether or not there ARE headings.
    2. Excel Accessibility Checker
    3. PowerPoint Accessibility Checker

Adobe Acrobat

Once you have created an accessible document, there’s still a few things you have to do in Adobe Acrobat Pro. Please be aware that you may need to purchase a copy of this software through your department's usual purchasing procedures. Once you have a copy of Adobe Acrobat Pro, these videos explain the process:


Once you understand the process, you can use the following checklist to make sure you have covered all the necessary elements.

  • Filename
    • Use a descriptive name for the form (the same as the form title—see below).
    • Consider how it will sound when read aloud.
  • Form Name (H1)
    • Provide a headline or title for the form.
    • Mark it as H1 on your page
  • Language Indication
    • The form must indicate what language it should be read in.
  • Alt Text
    • Provide alternative text that describes the image
  • Font Size
    • Form instructions must be legible.
      • 12 point type is recommended for instructional text.
  • Reading Order/Headings
    • Use numbered headings (H1, H2, H3) to structure your form by grouping together similar information, sections with similar instructions, or to show a logical progression.
    • Always use headings in sequence.
    • Always check the reading order in Adobe by hand
  • Use numbered steps if things must be done in a specific order
  • Fillable Form Fields – Field names and tooltips
    • Provide both a Field name for the screen readers and instructional tooltip text for each form field.
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