PDF, AcroForms, XFA, and Charles Babbage – Creating Accessible Forms with PDF


Presented at 3:30pm in Cotton Creek II on Wednesday, November 16, 2016.



  • Greg Pisocky, Business Development, Appligent Document Solutions

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format:
  • Expertise Level: Expert
  • Type of session: General Conference


This presentation by Appligent discusses and demonstrates the two methods for integrating data and PDF forms, -XFA and Acroforms, - and examines the merits and shortcomings of each approach from an authoring as well as an accessibility perspective, while throwing in a bit of computer and operational research history about Charles Babbage.


Charles Babbage conceived both forms and computers in the 1830s. Combining data collection with data processing was a natural application once computers became a reality. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular uses of PDF is the online form. The ability to render printed forms, combined with added fields and controls, makes PDF ideal for enabling direct data entry that spans multiple online platforms and hardcopy. Direct entry reduces the inefficiencies of workflows that rely on illegible responses written on paper forms and data entry errors resulting from rekeying information. Online PDF forms can also be accessible to persons with disabilities, offering privacy and independence without the need to rely upon someone’s assistance to complete forms that often ask users to provide personal or sensitive information. The presentation examines the respective advantages and disadvantages of AcroForms and XFA, and when to choose one over the other for applications, surveys, exams, etc.


  1. PDF is an accessible, widely deployed format for online forms offering users privacy and independence.
  2. Two methods exist for integrating variable data with PDF forms:, AcroForms and XFA
  3. Both methods create accessible forms, the one you pick depends on your needs and the constraints of each.

Disability Areas

Cognitive/Learning, Mobility, Vision

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Administrative/Campus Policy, Alternate Format, Assistive Technology, Legal, Web/Media Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Greg Pisocky

Greg Pisocky, of Appligent Document Solutions, long been involved in publishing technology since beginning his professional career Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Greg began working with PDF while at Frame Technology. Frame was acquired by Adobe and Greg became a member of the Acrobat Team. At the 2001 National Federation of the Blind Convention in Philadelphia, Greg was the first to publicly demonstrate Acrobat working with a screen reader. Working closely with Adobe Developers and the IRS, he was part of the team that created “talking PDF tax forms”. Greg worked on the W3C’s ATAG 2.0 accessible authoring techniques standard and is currently a member of the ANSI ISO working group for the PDF/UA Standard. He has been involved with PDF accessibility at NetCentric Technologies and currently at Appligent. Greg has addressed numerous conferences and events on the topic of document accessibility and has also been a past speaker at Accessing Higher Ground.


  • XFA, PDF, Babbage and Accessible Forms

    How the musings of a 19th century English mathematician are relevant today

    How the combination of data processing and blank form fields made accessible data collection possible.