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Luke Brannagan
Luke Brannagan

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Accessibility - Getting started / Quick wins


The reason I'm writing this blog post is due to the current way that accessibility at least in my experience is seen within tech companies. An afterthought or an oops yeah we should've done that at the start.

Accessibility is one of the topics, that for me is as important if not more important than testing (There is no point in testing something if it does not work for people who can only use a keyboard). But opinions aside there is a risk to bad accessibility and that is if whoever you're working for client or business asks we need to meet X standard there is either going to be a lot of refactoring or a complete remake of some components.

A couple of components to look out for are (although this is not a complete list that can be found here).

  • Tabbed views
  • Accordions
  • Fake buttons
  • Buttons with no text (Icon buttons etc)
  • Custom selects

Also, if you're looking to learn more semantic HTML learning accessibility in tandem is a really good idea as some semantic elements, for example, the interactive element <dialog></dialog> (we'll get into this in a bit).

In this post, I'm aiming to get you started or at least point you in the right direction when it comes to accessibility, giving you the confidence as well as knowledge to spot common errors before they become large issues causing you to refactor major components within a codebase. Let's get started.

Aria Labels

An aria-label is an attribute for an HTML element that defines a label for the given element. It should be used when there is no visible text associated with an element. Aria labels should only be used on certain elements, don't go labeling everything!

  • Interactive elements
  • Landmark elements
  • Elements that have an explicit widget role
  • iframe and img elements (I don't think these need an explanation 🙂)

Let's expand on what some of these elements are.

Interactive elements

Interactive elements consist of 4 HTML elements (blog post explaining how to use these coming soon! for now here's a link to some docs!).

  • <details></details>
  • <dialog></dialog>
  • <menu></menu>
  • <summary></summary>

Landmark elements

Landmark elements are a special kind of element; it could technically be any HTML element with the role set to a valid landmark value. A list of these is:

  • banner: A region that contains the prime heading or internal title of a page.
  • complementary: Any section of the document that supports the main content, yet is separate and meaningful on its own.
  • contentinfo: A region that contains information about the parent document such as copyrights and links to privacy statements.
  • form: A region of the document that represents a collection of form-associated elements, some of which can represent editable values that can be submitted to a server for processing.
  • main: Main content in a document. In almost all cases, a page will have only one role="main".
  • navigation: A collection of links suitable for use when navigating the document or related documents.
  • search: The search tool of a Web document.
  • application: A region declared as a web application, as opposed to a web document.

I apologize for the incomplete response. Here's the continuation of the blog post:

Accessibility - Getting started / Quick wins

Elements with explicit widget role

Some elements have an explicit role that represents a specific widget or interactive component. These elements include:

  • <button>
  • <input>
  • <select>
  • <textarea>

For these elements, if they don't have visible text, you should provide an aria-label to ensure they are accessible.

Examples of using aria-label

Let's take a look at a few examples of how to use aria-label:

  1. Button with an icon:
   <button aria-label="Add item">
     <i class="icon-add"></i>
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In this example, the button has an icon but no visible text. The aria-label attribute provides an accessible label for screen readers.

  1. Image with no alt text:
   <img src="image.jpg" aria-label="Product image">
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When using an image without alt text, you can use the aria-label attribute to provide a description for screen reader users.

  1. Custom select dropdown:
   <div role="combobox" aria-label="Select a country" aria-expanded="false">
     <input type="text" aria-autocomplete="list">
     <ul role="listbox" aria-hidden="true">
       <li role="option">Option 1</li>
       <li role="option">Option 2</li>
       <li role="option">Option 3</li>
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In this example, we have a custom select dropdown implemented using HTML and CSS. The aria-label attribute on the main container provides a label for the dropdown, and the role attributes on the child elements define their roles for accessibility.

By using aria-label appropriately, you can ensure that elements without visible text are still accessible to screen reader users.

Keyboard Accessibility

Keyboard accessibility is a crucial aspect of web accessibility. Many users rely on keyboards to navigate and interact with websites, especially those with motor disabilities. Here are some key points to consider for keyboard accessibility:

  1. Focus Styles: Ensure that interactive elements, such as links, buttons, and form inputs, have a visible focus indicator when they receive focus. This helps keyboard users understand their current location on the page.

  2. Tab Order: Elements should follow a logical tab order that makes sense for keyboard users. By default, HTML elements are ordered based on their position in the HTML document. However, you can use the tabindex attribute to modify the tab order if needed.

  3. Keyboard Navigation: Test your website using only the keyboard to ensure all interactive elements are reachable and operable. Users should be able to navigate through links, buttons, dropdown menus, and other interactive components using the keyboard alone.

  4. Skip Links: Include a skip link at the beginning of your page to allow users to jump directly to the main content or other important sections. This helps keyboard users avoid repetitive navigation and quickly access the relevant content.

  5. Keyboard Traps: Avoid creating keyboard traps where users get stuck in a particular focus state and cannot navigate away using the keyboard. For example, ensure that modals and overlays can be closed using the keyboard (e.g., pressing the Escape key).

These are just a few considerations for keyboard accessibility. It's important to thoroughly test your website's keyboard interactions and ensure a smooth experience for keyboard-only users.

Semantic HTML

Using semantic HTML is not only good for search engine optimization and code readability but also plays a significant role in accessibility. Semantic HTML

elements convey meaning to assistive technologies and provide context for understanding the structure of a web page. Here are some examples of semantic HTML elements and their usage:

  • <header>: Represents the introductory content or a group of navigational aids for a page or section.
  • <nav>: Defines a section containing navigation links.
  • <main>: Specifies the main content of a document.
  • <article>: Represents a self-contained composition in a document.
  • <section>: Defines a standalone section within a document.
  • <aside>: Represents a section of a document with content related to the main content.
  • <footer>: Defines the footer of a document or a section.
  • <figure> and <figcaption>: Used together to encapsulate media content (such as images) and provide a caption.

By utilizing these semantic elements, you provide additional context to assistive technologies and enhance the overall accessibility of your website.

ARIA Landmarks

ARIA landmarks are a set of roles that can be added to specific sections of a web page to help users navigate and understand its structure. Some common ARIA landmarks include:

  • role="banner": Marks the banner or header section of a page.
  • role="navigation": Identifies the section containing navigation links.
  • role="main": Marks the main content of a document.
  • role="complementary": Identifies a section that supports the main content but is not essential to its understanding.
  • role="contentinfo": Marks the footer or the end portion of a page, providing additional information about the document.

By using ARIA landmarks, you can enhance the navigation and comprehension of your web pages for screen reader users.


Web accessibility is a vital aspect of building inclusive and user-friendly websites. By following these quick wins, including providing explicit widget roles, using aria-label appropriately, ensuring keyboard accessibility, using semantic HTML, and leveraging ARIA landmarks, you can make significant improvements to the accessibility of your website.

Remember that accessibility is an ongoing process, and it's essential to test your website with real users, including those with disabilities, to gather feedback and make further improvements. By prioritizing accessibility from the start and continuously iterating on your designs and implementations, you can create a web experience that is accessible to all users.

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