On this page: Tooltips | Tabbing Order | Mutually Exclusive Checkboxes

In all cases, if a PDF is to become a fillable form, the work of adding form fields should take place before the file is tagged for accessibility.

Info icon. If your PDF file does not include fillable fields you’ll need to create them in your PDF editing software (Adobe Acrobat Professional or otherwise) prior to addressing accessibility needs with CommonLook PDF.

Forms can be created in Adobe Acrobat using a wizard that looks for areas that appear to be form fields. Elements on the page such as boxes or underlined spaces are turned into check boxes and text fields. The wizard is not perfect, but can correctly identify areas which need fields in many cases.

This chapter assumes that your PDF form is already created, that is, you’ve already added your form-fields and you’re satisfied that you’re ready to proceed to ensuring the form is accessible.

The form fields have to be identified before a document is tagged. The correct tag structure will not be created otherwise.

Alert icon. Some forms created with Adobe LiveCycle (specifically, dynamic XFA-PDF forms) cannot be remediated using CommonLook PDF; Adobe LiveCycle is required.

In some cases LiveCycle forms may be converted successfully to conventional Adobe Acrobat forms using the form wizard in Adobe Acrobat Professional.

Like other annotations a form tag includes distinct components; generally text runs and always an annotation.

It’s necessary to ensure the form has all fields created and the file tagged before remediating the document.

Features of Accessible Form Fields

At the simplest level, accessible form fields must include a tooltip and the “tabbing order” of the fields must be managed by the PDF’s tags. Mutually-exclusive checkboxes or radio-buttons must be handled correctly to ensure the various options are fully accessible. Scripts must be checked to ensure they meet applicable accessibility standards.


As labels help describe form fields for conventionally sighted users, in PDF forms, tooltips provide this functionality to assistive technology. When an AT user enters a field (often by tabbing), their software will announce the tooltip.

Properties for a form tag. To check or update form-field tooltips in CommonLook PDF:

  1. Select the form tag.
  2. Click the properties tab.
  3. Type the tool tip in the ToolTip field property.

A tool tip can quickly be created by selecting the text run that corresponds to the form field, the form field itself and then clicking on insert form in the toolbar. This method copies the text into the ToolTip property field. If text was already present, it is overwritten. Additional text can be added if the copied value is not adequate.

Add form toolbar button.

Tabbing Order

Acrobat Fields panel, Order Tabs by Structure is selected. “Tabbing order” refers to the sequence of form-fields encountered by a user navigating with the tab key, a standard accessibility convention.

The tab order matters; if the user’s forced to skip from (say) city to part-number to middle initial they’re not getting a reasonably equivalent experience of the form as a conventional user.

In accessible PDF forms the tab order is managed by tags, but it’s not automatically so. The PDF file must be set to use tags to manage the tab order. Once your fields are in place and your PDF is tagged, this setting must be checked to ensure that assistive technology knows how to use the form-fields in the PDF.

A simple solution is to synchronize the tab order with the document structure in the forms panel. In Adobe Acrobat’s Form Editor panel, click Tab Order and select Order Tabs by Structure.

Mutually Exclusive Checkboxes

Mutually exclusive checkboxes and radio buttons allow only one choice from a group of choices. When a selection is made, other options in the group are unselected. “Male/Female” is perhaps the iconic version of a mutually exclusive choice, but any form presenting a set of choices with the instructions “select only one” a mutually exclusive form.

There’s no problem with creating mutually exclusive forms in PDF, but the method used can have accessibility implications. One must employ some simple JavaScript to allow mutually exclusive checkboxes to function in an accessible manner.

To manage form fields in Acrobat Pro, users should consult the documentation for their version of that product.

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