Adobe Acrobat & Making Forms

Adobe Acrobat 9 Professional offers the capability of converting a Word document directly into a fillable PDF form (using the "Start Form Wizard" tool).  Although the resultant PDF is tagged, form fields are not added to the tag structure automatically.  "Run Form Field Recognition," a tool that became available in version 8, can be used to automatically add form fields as well, but again, tags for form fields are not automatically added.  In most cases, you will need to use the tools in Acrobat, described in the next section, to add form field tags.

A fillable PDF form that is tagged correctly appears as such when the TouchUp Reading Order tool is active.  The Order and Tag panels also display form fields.  The screenshot below depicts a PDF form that has been tagged correctly.  The TouchUp Reading Order tool is active, showing the text and form field items.  The Tags panel has been expanded on the left, also displaying the text and form field items.

Form elements in a PDF form as depicted on the Tags pane and as shown using the TouchUp Reading Order tool.  "The Name form field, as depicted in the Tags page"... "The Name form field"

Adding Form Tags

To determine if form fields are tagged, run a full check in Acrobat (described in Stage 1 of this document).  If form fields are not tagged, you will get the following accessibility error message: "form fields are not contained within the structure tree."  The problem is also evident from the Tags panel (form tags are not present).

To add form tags to a PDF:

  1. Click on the Advanced menu in Acrobat.
  2. Choose Accessibility, and then Add Form Fields to Tags.
  3. Run or re-run the Acrobat accessibility full check.
    1. You may discover that some or all form fields are not tagged by the Add Form Fields to Tags tool.  You will need to manually tag any missing form fields (see the section called Identifying an Item That Has Not Been Tagged, located in the Review section).

Adding Form Field Descriptions

All form fields on a PDF need accompanying descriptons.  Descriptions should contain instructions, rather than descriptions.  For example, a PDF that requires a user to type in his or her contact information, such as a name and address, the Name form field description might read something like this: "Enter your first name, followed by your last name."

To add form field descriptions to a PDF:

  1. Click on the TouchUp Reading Order tool.
  2. Right-click (or ctrl-click for Mac users) on the form field (on the number in the upper-left), then choose Edit Form Field Text... from the context menu.
    1. This option will only be available if the form field is correct identified ("tagged").

    Edit Form Field Text... option that is available from the context menu (right-click on a form element when using the TouchUp Reading Order tool).
  3. Type in a description for the form field, and then click OK.

Alternatively, form field descriptions can be added via the "Tooltip" field when the form element is created (see screenshot below).

"Enter a form field description as a "ToolTip".  Text Field Properties dialog box is displayed for a  form element.

Creating a Logical Tab Order for Form Fields

The "tab order' of a form is the order in which form fields are activated or "focused on" when the tab button is used on the keyboard.  Normally, the designer of a form prefers that it be filled out in a specific order.  The tab order for a PDF form can be viewed from the Form Editing window.

To view the tab order of a PDF form,

Show Tab Numbers option is highlighted from the Tab Order menu.  The Form Editor window is being viewed.

  1. Open the form in Acrobat.
  2. Click the Forms menu in the menu bar.
  3. Select Add or Edit Fields.
  4. From the Tab Order drop-down menu, select Show Tab Numbers.  Tab numbers will appear in the upper left corner of each field.

If the tab order for a form is incorrect, manually adjust it by dragging fields to the correct location within the Fields panel.  The Fields panel is located to the left of a form, from the Form Editing window (screenshot above).

After doing any type of form field editing in the Forms Editing mode, you will need to get out of forms editing mode and go to Advanced > Accessibility > Add Form Fields to Tags.

Video Tutorial - Features In Adobe Acrobat to Create Accessible Forms (9 min 15)


  • This training has been funded in part by the EnACT (Ensuring Access through Collaboration and Technology) grant. 
  • Written and developed by Sacramento State Online Learning professionals, Monica Range and Cryssel Vera and technical crew, Ivan Vajar, Ken Young, and Jennifer Wicks with guidance from the CSU Professional Development Work Group.


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