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Designer Accessibility

Adobe Designer, formerly LiveCycle Designer, is specifically designed to create fillable PDF forms. Forms created in Designer can be opened and completed in Adobe Acrobat, but cannot be edited there (as opposed to "AcroForms" which are built and edited in Acrobat). Designer automatically addresses most accessibility issues. For best results, forms should be created from scratch in Designer doing the following:

Quick Tips

  1. Start from Scratch - don't open an existing PDF or import from Word.
    • Start new forms in Designer.
    • Save as and keep an original version in XDP format.
    • Save a copy as PDF when you're ready to publish it (but still keep the XDP original).
  2. Settings - show the options that are important for accessibility.
    • Open the Object, Layout, Accessibility, Font, and Paragraph palettes (if they're not showing, find them in the Window menu).
    • In the Tools menu, pick Options, Document Handling, and make sure Default File Type is set to Adobe XML Form File (XDP).
  3. Headings - set Role for headings.
    • Use Text (not Text Field) objects for headings.
    • With a Text object selected, go to the Accessibility panel and set Role to Heading Level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 (not just "Heading").
    • Use Heading Level 1 for the title of the document, Level 2 for main section headings, Level 3 for sub-section headings, etc.
  4. Images - use Tool Tips for alt text.
    • With an Image object selected, go to the Accessibility panel and enter a Tool Tip.
    • Enter alt text that communicates what the picture communicates. If there are words in the picture, put them in the alt text.
    • Designer doesn't have way to mark images as "decorative"; if an image doesn't communicate anything, enter a very short name or description.
    • Do NOT change "Screen Reader Precedence" or enter "Custom Screen Reader Text". (They don't do what you think.)
  5. Captions - use Captions to label form fields.
    • Most form field objects automatically have captions (visible text to the left or right of the field) - use them!
    • If the visible caption isn't enough to clearly label a field (e.g., if there are multiple "Address" fields and you need to tell them apart), go to the Accessibility panel and enter a complete label in Tool Tip (e.g., "Mailing Address") -- otherwise, don't set Tool Tips on form fields!
    • For Radio Buttons, enter the "question" as the Tool Tip on the RadioButtonList (the box that contains all the radio buttons) - enter the same text that is on the screen before the first radio button.
    • Do NOT enter "Custom Screen Reader Text".
  6. Tables - use Tables for Tables.
    • Use Table objects for tables, don't just draw lines.
    • When inserting the table, make sure "Include Header Row in Table" is checked.
    • Keep tables simple - don't merge cells.
    • If there form fields in a table, they probably won't have captions (text to their left) -- enter their labels as Tool Tips.
  7. Tab Order - Check the Tab 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 that the numbering makes sense.
    • If not, 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 won't work on them. 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 full list in the Keyboard Testing Quick Reference).
  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".

More Information