Organizations should always ensure that forms that are created to be printed and then filled out are also made electronically fillable. These types of forms typically appear in PDF reader formats and contain dashes, underlining, or boxes where information should be entered after printing. These “print forms” do not contain form fields that can be electronically completed using a computer. When creating forms that should be printed and filled out, users with disabilities such as those who are visually impaired, those with mobility impairments, and those who cannot write may not be able to complete the forms by themselves.
Providing forms in an electronically fillable format will allow disabled users to complete the form electronically in private. The user can then print the form in a paper copy if required. Additionally, having the form completed electronically allows users with disabilities to electronically submit the form when applicable. Submitting paper forms can be difficult for users with certain disabilities as often these printable forms require mailing, faxing, or delivering the form – all of which require some actions that are inaccessible to some disability groups. Using electronically fillable forms has additional benefits including an increase in form processing time, error prevention, and receipt notification using automation.
There are several methods to convert paper forms into an electronically fillable form. These methods exist for many document formats, including the most common PDF file type. The PDF format sufficiently support accessibility that would allow electronically fillable forms to be compliant with the relevant accessibility standards including Section 508 and WCAG 1 and 2.
To allow PDF forms to be filled out electronically, Adobe Acrobat Professional’s “Form Wizard” allows you to create fillable forms for any type of use. Any organization using the application must ensure that the form is accessible by following all relevant best practices making electronic forms accessible. For example, organizations must ensure that form fields provide explicit accessible labels, ensure error messages are accessible, ensure keyboard access to all form controls, and ensure that instructions and cues are provided in an accessible.
One area of consideration is that when information is submitted electronically, it must safeguard the content for individual’s privacy. For this reason, organizations may choose to allow the forms to be filled out electronically on an individual’s computer but require the user to print the form and electronic forms to users with disabilities.
While the accessibility standards defined by current legislation and guidelines do not specifically address the issue of making forms that are designed to be printed and filled out electronically fillable, SSB perceives there is sufficient momentum in court rulings and settlements to indicate that organizations should provide paper forms in electronically fillable formats to reduce the legal and associated financial risk associated with inaccessible forms. The current ease at which forms can be made electronically fillable coupled with the benefits of access by users with disabilities, accessibility to the general population, and automation of electronic form processing provide excellent grounds to convert paper to fillable forms to electronically fillable forms.