Creating Accessible Documents and Forms

If you haven't already checked out the Digital Accessibility Basics Training Series or our growing IT Accessibility Knowledge Base, please do! These resources will provide some context for the phased document and form accessibility checkpoints you’ll find below.

Design in Microsoft Office or Adobe InDesign

Authoring tools like Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Adobe InDesign make creating accessible documents and presentations relatively straightforward. Rather than learning entirely new authoring methods, you may simply do the things you’re already doing, just a little bit differently. Even when a document is ultimately published as an accessible PDF, accessible design in the original authoring platform will allow for more sustainable and unchallenging efforts to apply modifications in the future.

Visual Considerations

  1. Typography

    • Avoid serif fonts and ALL CAPS (outside of explained acronyms) for purposes of readability.

    • Use size 12 pt. font or larger for documents and size 18 pt. or larger for presentations.

  2. Readability

    • Use the simplest language appropriate for your content.

    • Use columns, horizontal line separators, and empty (white) space strategically to improve readability.

    • Use images, graphics, and diagrams to dynamically supplement text.

    • Proofread for misspellings, grammar errors, and broken links.

  3. Color

    • Never use color alone to convey meaning.

      • Use headings, accessible tables, lists, and other structural tools to differentiate between categories. Color may still be used to supplement.

    • Ensure appropriate color contrast between foreground and background.

Structural Considerations

  1. Properties

    • Ensure that you include a descriptive title and that the language of the document is set appropriately.

  2. Headings

  3. Links

    • Use descriptive links that make sense out of context.

      • Do not use generic phrases like “learn more,” “click here,” or “more information.”

      • Avoid lengthy or complex URLs as link text.

  4. Alternative Text

  5. Lists

    • Use properly formatted, built-in list structure for bulleted and numbered lists.

  6. Tables

Overarching Office and InDesign Resources

Validate in Adobe Acrobat Pro

When you design a document or presentation with an authoring tool that allows for accessible design, validation in Adobe Acrobat Pro can be quick and easy. When you inherit a PDF, and the original document is unavailable, remediation may take some time and effort. Please refer to our IT Accessibility Knowledge Base article on https://portlandstate.atlassian.net/wiki/spaces/ITA/pages/1752465494/Remediating+Inaccessible+Documents+and+Forms for more information.

Please note that Adobe Acrobat Pro is required in order to generate fully accessible PDFs. Departments may purchase copies by submitting a software installation request through the OIT Helpdesk.

Checkpoints for Standard PDFs

  1. Export Accurately

  2. Validate Properties

  3. Review Reading Order

  4. Validate Alternative Text

  5. Review Tag Structure

    • Validate tag structure for accurate headings, lists, links, tables, and table headers.

Checkpoints for PDF Forms

In addition to the checkpoints listed above for all PDFs, you should also consider the following form-specific checkpoints for fillable PDF forms.

  1. Add Field Labels

  2. Specify Required Fields

  3. Review Tab Order

    1. Ensure logical tab order for each fillable form field.

Finish in Adobe Sign

You can use an accessible, fillable PDF form by itself for information-gathering situations, in which a legal signature is not required. For purposes of validation and security, you should distribute externally-facing PDF forms that require a legal signature via a valid e-signature program like Adobe Sign.