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Designer Accessibility

Adobe Designer (formerly LiveCycle Designer) is a tool for creating fillable PDF forms. Forms created in Designer can be opened and completed in Adobe Acrobat, and Designer makes it relatively easy to make forms accessible. For best results, do the following:

Quick Tips

  1. Settings - set up Designer for accessibility. 
    1. Open the Window menu, and pick Object, Layout, Accessibility, and Font. Those palettes should appear in the lower right panel or you can drag them there.
    2. Open the Tools menu, pick Options, Document Handling, and set Default File Type to Adobe XML Form File (XDP).
  2. Save as XDP - save originals in XDP format.
    • Start new forms in Designer - don't import from Word or Excel, and avoid opening PDFs if you can.
    • Keep an original copy of each form in XDP format - it's most reliable.
    • Only "Save As" PDF when you're ready to publish - then close the PDF and reopen the XDP if you need to edit it.
    • Check the Title bar periodically to confirm you're editing the XDP version.
  3. Title - set it once per form.
    • Open the File Menu, pick Form Properties, and enter a Title (e.g., the name and number of the form). 
  4. Headings - set Role for headings.
    • Any text that's large and bold might be a heading.
    • The title of the form is a Heading Level 1, headings for main sections are Level 2, headings for sub-sections are Level 3, etc.
    • With a Text object selected, go to the Accessibility panel and set Role to Heading Level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 (but not just "Heading").
  5. Images - use Tool Tips for alt text.
    • Images need "alt text" that communicates what the images communicates (not describes what it looks like).
    • If there are words in the image, the should pobably be in the alt text. 
    • With an Image object (not an Image Field) selected, go to the Accessibility panel and enter alt text in the Tool Tip. (Don't change "Screen Reader Precedence" or enter "Custom Screen Reader Text" -- they don't do what you'd think.)
    • Designer doesn't have way to mark images as "decorative" - if an image doesn't communicate anything, enter a very short name or description.
    • Circle, Line, and Rectangle shapes don't have Tool Tips, so only use them as non-essential decorations.  
  6. Fields - use Captions to label form fields.
    • Most form field objects have captions (visible text to the left or right) that is automatically accessible.
    • If a caption isn't enough to clearly label a field, go to the Accessibility panel and enter a complete label in the Tool Tip.
    • For groups of Radio Buttons, enter the "question" (e.g., "What are your favorite pizza toppings?") once as the Tool Tip on the RadioButtonList.
    • For groups of Check Boxes, enter the question and answer (e.g., "What is your favorite color? Red") as the Tool Tip for each Check Box.
  7. Tables - use Tables for Tables.
    • Use Table objects for tables, don't draw lines or copy & paste from Excel.
    • When inserting a table, make sure "Include Header Row in Table" is checked.
    • Don't merge cells.
    • Text Fields in a table won't have captions, so enter their full label as the Tool Tip.
  8. Lists - try to avoid them.
    • For simple lists, it may be adequate just to use a Text object - you may need to listen with a screen reader to be sure it's understandable.
    • To make a real list: (1) add a subform and set Role to List, (2) add a subform inside the list and set Role to List Item, (3) add a Text object inside the List Item, (4) repeat steps 2 & 3 for (or copy and paste) each list item.  
  9. Tab Order - Check the order when you're done with everything else.
    • Select the Tab Order panel on the left (if it's not showing, find it in the Window menu).
    • With Tab Order set to Automatic, check whether the numbering makes sense - if it does, you're done!
    • If you need to change it, set the Tab Order to Custom and use the Move Up/Move Down (arrow) buttons to adjust the order.
    • If you use Master Pages, wrap all the objects at the top in a subform and move it above the Content Area in the Master Page Hierarchy.


While Designer forms can be opened and used in Acrobat, Acrobat's Accessibility Checker may not work as expected. Do this instead:

  1. Keyboard Operation
    • Starting at the top of the form, press the Tab key to move from field to field, check that focus moves to each field in an order that makes sense.
    • Try operating each field with standard keyboard commands (see the Keyboard Testing Guide).
  2. Tool Tips
    1. Hover your mouse pointer over each field to see it's tool tip.
    2. Check that the tool tip shows the entire label of the field (it's OK to have extra text after the label, but not before it).
    3. Pay special attention to fields in tables -- their tooltips should show the column and row headers, e.g., "Quantity Product #1".


When you save as PDF, you have the choice of Static or Dynamic. Here's the difference:

  • Static PDF - can be opened in web browsers as well as Acrobat, but if you fill one out in a web browser and save it, you can only view the saved data in a web browser - it won't show up in Acrobat!
  • Dynamic PDF - required for forms where users can add new sections or pages; shows an error message in web browsers - you must download the form and open it in Acrobat to fill it out.

More Information