Why use a form builder service for accessible forms
Earlier in this series, we addressed options for building accessible forms using common WordPress form builder plugins. But if you don’t use WordPress or need to collect form responses outside of your website as well, you may need to use a third-party form builder service. Typically these services are rich in features and integrations, and most are offered on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis with a monthly subscription fee. Given the investment required and potential for platform lock-in, it is especially important for organizations to evaluate their forms provider for accessibility and ensure that it is WCAG and ADA compliant.
As with any other third-party software or service accessed from your website, you are responsible as a site owner for the accessibility of your forms even if they are not hosted on your site. This means that you could be liable under the ADA if your form solution is inaccessible to users with disabilities. However, especially given that most form builders are no-code solutions, you are much less likely to accidentally introduce your own accessibility issues into the mix. That means that using a form builder that is accessible out-of-the-box is a great opportunity to cross one item off of your list of things to worry about.
Accessibility considerations for forms
The good news is that the set of likely accessibility issues on forms is fairly specific. While technically a form builder can have the full range of possible accessibility violations just like any website, there are a number of accessibility issues that relate specifically to form features and functionality. Some of the typical accessibility considerations on a form would include:
- Using form field labels (rather than placeholder text) to describe the purpose of all fields
- Required fields are indicated.
- If a symbol like an asterisk (*) is used to indicate required fields, a legend is generated that explains the meaning of the symbol.
- Autocomplete options are available when relevant
- Fields are programmatically generated to share relevant information correctly with screen readers (including required status, autocomplete options, etc.)
- All text color combinations generated within the form have a sufficient contrast ratio of 4.5:1 including field labels, placeholder text, error alerts, inline validation errors, success messages, and button text
- All other color combinations generated within the form UI have sufficient color contrast ratio of 3:1 including field borders to indicate an active control
- Color is not used as the only indication that a field was populated correctly (e.g. a green outline) or incorrectly (e.g. a red outline)
- All fields and functionality are accessible from the keyboard including radio button, dropdown, multi-select, and file upload fields
- All interactive elements have a visible focus effect
- All errors detected on the form should generate validation instructions to fix them
- Error messages should be generated in a way that they are immediately accessible to screen readers on an attempted submission and allow the user to easily return to the form via keyboard
Our form accessibility evaluation process
The first step of our evaluation process is to find what form builders have to say about their own accessibility. Generally if they don’t have anything to say, that tells us something about how important accessibility is to them. Ultimately, we want to identify the form builders that have made the effort to prioritize accessibility.
In practice, this means that it should be possible to use a form builder to create an accessible form. Ideally this is the default option (and the default configurations are set up to make all forms accessible by default). But at minimum, there should be some documentation of how to use the service in an ADA compliant manner and some guardrails built in that help you realize if you are introducing accessibility violations.
Beyond that, we aren’t able to offer a full audit or review of any of these services at this time. (After all, people pay us for that!) But this article will be updated as we come across additional information. If your procurement or technology review process requires a more in-depth evaluation, please contact us to discuss how we can help your organization.
Jotform provides more information about its commitment to accessibility than any other service we have seen. Jotform makes it easy to create WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliant forms by providing pre-made accessible templates and by including a built-in accessibility checker. If you select that you want your form to be accessible, the checker will notify you as you make settings or configuration choices that would make your form inaccessible. Jotform also indicates accessible color schemes within the form designer to make it easy to select color combinations with sufficient contrast.
There are a small number of widgets that do not support accessibility (such as e-signatures), but the accessibility checker will warn you if you accidentally select them. However, there are (non-form specific) accessibility issues that, while quite rare to introduce into forms, are beyond the scope of what the accessibility checker can detect. In this case, Jotform does provide documentation of best practices that notes how to avoid these scenarios (such as translating form fields and warnings into foreign languages or avoiding using blinking images).
Those interested can also peruse a copy of JotForm’s VPAT (as of 2019).
While most forms are pretty straightforward, Typeform has a different take on the genre. The Typeform service prioritizes visual presentation including video and image integrations into form options and features spinoff video lead generation and chatbot services. Given these deviations from the typical form format, it is especially important for customers to be confident that Typeform provides an accessible form experience. For example, unlike most forms, Typeform has built-in functionality to allow users to pause blinking or scrolling background videos.
Typeform claims to be WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliant for the default full-page experience and continuously tests for accessibility with a third-party partner. However, there are a number of exceptions and areas where you should be careful in your configurations and settings to ensure that your form remains accessible:
- The embedded version of Typeform has not yet been audited for accessibility, which means that including Typeform within your site (as opposed to linking out) may not be ADA compliant
- The default theme has sufficient color contrast on all text and UI elements, but custom themes may not be accessible
- All images incorporated into forms need to have alt text manually added
- Videos embedded into a form must use a video player service that supports closed captioning
Formstack is a full productivity suite that includes forms to power data collection, document preparation services, signature collection and software to tie it all together. Formstack claims that its forms are WCAG (and Section 508) compliant, but makes no mention of the other services’ accessibility on its website. Accessibility is fairly foundational within the product with Formstack having claimed Section 508 compliance as early as 2014!
However, Formstack provides fairly limited information as to how it achieves accessibility. There is no VPAT or other accessibility conformance document. The extent of the information provided is:
- Formstack is WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant
- It has been reviewed by a third-party vendor
- Some advanced form fields are not accessible
- The system generates warnings when non-accessible options are selected
If you need help selecting an accessible form builder service, we hope that the options documented here are helpful in our process. But if you don’t see your form provider here, don’t panic. You can start by checking their website to see if they have any mentions of accessibility, WCAG, or Section 508; if you don’t find anything, that’s not a great sign but it never hurts to ask. We are also happy to assist in auditing or evaluating new form services and if you agree, we’ll even share the results here for the public.