Category Archives: Interpreting WCAG 2.0

WCAG 2.0 SC 1.3.1:Interpreting "or available in text"

The phrase "or are available in text" occurring in Success criterion 1.3.1 of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 is very commonly misinterpreted. The SC states:

"Information, structure, and relationships conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text. (Level A)"

Stated in another way, this SC requires all three namely, information, structure and relationships to be available in text if the information, structure and relationships that is conveyed via presentation are not programmatically determinable.

As an example, if the text "Abstract" or the text "Status of this document" marked up as h2 headings on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, or any of the headings on that page for that matter is not marked up as a heading using h1 … h6 element but is styled to appear like a heading, it will still meet SC 1.3.1 if the fact that it is a header for the text that follows is indicated in text.

In other words, assuming the word "Abstract" is suitably styled to appear like a heading without actually marking it up as one, <p><b>Abstract</b> (Level 2 Header)</p> passes SC 1.3.1 because the word "Level 2 Header" conveys structure and relationship in text. And of course the word "Abstract" i.e. the information, itself is presented as text. Surely I do not recall ever having seen an HTML page with such markup and am quite sure I never will, this is what the success criterion states.

Likewise, if the relationship that a segment of text is a label for an adjacent form control or that is a row header cell for the data cells in that table row is indicated in text, that is sufficient to meet SC 1.3.1 if that text segment resembles a form control’s label or a row header cell respectively by its positioning and styling … assuming the form label or the row header relationships are not conveyed via programmatic markup. This is again not something one will encounter routinely on a Web page.

The mere presence of a error message next to a form control, "Password must contain at least one numeric digit" may pass SC 3.3.1 (Error identification), but its relation with the form control must be programmatically determinable or the fact that it is an "error message for the password field" needs to be presented in text in order to meet SC 1.3.1.

The rationale for the words, "or available in text" is that in some technologies, it may not be possible to convey the structure and relationship in a programmatically determinable way even though the information itself is presented in text. This is also clarified under "Intent" in Understanding SC 1.3.1. HTML and WAI-ARIA permit one to employ semantic markup to convey structure and expose data relationships. With these technologies, therefore, one may seldom need to point to this phrase in order to claim conformance with SC 1.3.1.