Creating a Word Form Template for Creating an Accessible PDF Form

Presented at 8:00am in Denver 1-3 on Thursday, November 9, 2023.



  • Karen McCall, Accessible Document Design Consultant and Educator, Karlen Communications

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 2-hr
  • Format: Lab
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


We’ve all faced unique form designs that seem counter intuitive for anyone filling out the form. We’ve also experienced trying to match an “artists” conception of a form control with the reality in a functioning form. Starting with Word, we’ll discuss the accessibility of content controls, legacy controls and ActiveX form controls. We’ll then begin creating a form template using best practices and UDL strategies that can convert to a more accessible PDF form.


If you’ve worked with forms in PDF format, you’ll recognize that form authors don’t always create the most accessible forms in terms of layout. Often we see the number for a unit after “Address” where most of us type the entire address. We also see Y/N questions that might have been radio buttons if the Yes and No were separated to allow for radio buttons; however, due to the design, we need to use a dropdown list. This 2 lab session looks at the best practices for creating an accessible Word form that can be converted to an accessible PDF (sent to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC) where the form controls can be added. As we discuss accessible form design, we’ll create an accessible form template in Word. Before we start, we’ll examine the reasons why form controls in Word such as content controls, Legacy form controls and ActiveX form controls are not accessible.


  1. Understand why using the form controls in Word are not accessible/do not create an accessible form.
  2. Understand elements of a form that should be laid out in a logical manner/reading order.
  3. Create an accessible form template in Word to be used to create an accessible PDF form.

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Accessible Educational Materials, Teaching about Accessibility in Curriculum, Uncategorized, Universal Design for Learning

Speaker Bio(s)

Karen McCall

Karen McCall, M.Ed. has been working in the field of accessible document design since 1999. She began her career in website accessibility and auditing and moved to accessible Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents in 2004. Karen is:

A Canadian delegate of the ISO 14289 or PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) committee and has been for a number of years. A Canadian delegate to the ISO 32000 PDF committee. A Microsoft MVP for Word (Most Valued Professional) since 2009. A Microsoft Accessibility MVP since 2017 when this category of MVP was established.

Karen has written several books on the topic of accessible document design for Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents as well as smaller publications with specific techniques for working with Office applications if you are using adaptive technology and/or the keyboard.

Karen is the president of Karlen Communications.