Electronic Forms (MS Word)

Background and Purpose

People using assistive technologies need to be able to navigate through form fields and elements (checkboxes, for example) in the correct order.  In addition, a textual description of each field or element is required so that users can properly access or input the form information.

The Purpose of this checkpoint is to ensure that electronic forms created in MS Word are accessible when converted to PDF.

While Legacy form fields are recommended for maximally accessible Word files, CommonLook Office will convert both Legacy fields and ActiveX controls to accessible form-fields in the generated PDF file.

Note:  Although Content controls in Word can be used, CommonLook Office will flatten the data in them and that data will be provided as regular text.  Content controls will not be converted to electronically fillable form fields (or elements) in the generated PDF.

Applied Rules

CommonLook Office will apply the following rules to form fields in Word documents:

  • Form fields will be converted to PDF in the tab order in which they appear in the Word document.
  • The tab order will be set to follow the logical structure of the document.
  • The “Help Text” will be converted to a tooltip.
  • Radio buttons (an ActiveX controls option) will be converted to mutually exclusive checkboxes that have the appearance of radio buttons.


When CommonLook Office detects form fields or elements in the document, they will be listed in the panel for this checkpoint.

For each field or element listed, enter the following attributes (or accept the default values):

  • Help Text: This becomes the “tooltip” in the PDF and is read by assistive technology when the user lands on the field (the field ‘gets focus’). By default, CommonLook Office uses the text in context with the form field/element as the Help Text.
  • Width: The width of the field in the specified units (refer to the “Width type” option below). CommonLook Office defaults this value based on the location of the field in the document to maximize the field’s size when converted to PDF. For example, if the field is in a table cell, CommonLook Office will size its width so that it takes up all the available space in the cell. This is because fields in MS Word may allow entry of data beyond what would fit in the width of the field (provided that the Maximum Text Length allows it). The PDF format, on the other hand, limits the data entry to what would fit within the width of the field.
  • Height: The height of the field in the specified units.
  • Units: The measurement units for the Width and Height.
  • Maximum Text Length: The maximum number of characters that can be entered in the field. By default the field is unlimited.
  • Command Button Action:  An ActiveX control.  If a Command button is added in the Word document then this field becomes active.  Action options are:
    • Reset – the button will clear the PDF form.
    • Print – the button will print the PDF form.
    • Submit – the button will submit the form.  If this option is chosen then the “Submit type” options become enabled.  Refer to that item below.
    • Custom Script – If selected, the “Provide JavaScript” button in the CommonLook Office interface becomes enabled.
  • Provide JavaScript:  If a Command Button has been used in the document, and the “Action” is “Custom Script,” a window will open here for the author to provide the necessary JavaScript.  Important Note:  JavaScripts used in a document must also conform to accessibility guidelines.  CommonLook Office will notify the user that JavaScript has been implemented in the document.  The code, however, will be deployed as-is and will not be checked for correct syntax or accessibility.
  • Submit Type:  There are four available “Submit Types” – HTML, PDF, FDF, and XFDF.  Please refer to PDF specifications for more information on the various submit types.
  • Submit URL:  If the form is to be submitted online, this field allows the author to input the URL to which the form should be submitted.    

Note: Depending on the type of field, some of the attributes may be disabled.

Screenshot of the Form checkpoint in CommonLook Office.

Annotation Types (PDF/UA):

CommonLook Office only creates widget (form) annotations and link annotations.  This checkpoint is otherwise not applicable in CommonLook Office.

Guidelines and Standards

This checkpoint is relevant to the following regulations, guidelines and standards:

DocumentPublishedScopeConformance Criteria
Section 508 – 2001 Regulations (USA)2001“Web-Based Information & Applications”(d), (n)
W3C WCAG 2.0
(REVISED SECTION 508 – 2017)
2008Web ContentSC 2.4.3
SC 3.2.1
SC 3.2.2
SC 3.3.2
Health and Human Services – HHS (USA)2013PDF File 508 ChecklistID 6.1
ID 6.2
ID 6.3
ISO 14289 (PDF/UA)2012PDF TechnologySection 7.1
Section 7.18.1
Section 7.18.2
Section 7.18.4