WAI ARIA: few mistakes to avoid

There is nothing wrong using ARIA to remediate/fix the accessibility issues as long as the authors have thorough knowledge on how and when to use ARIA. At the same time, we need to remember that misuse of ARIA damages the accessibility much more than not having ARIA. There is a saying like no ARIA is better than bad ARIA. This blog post attempts to highlight some of the common mistakes that author does while remediating the accessibility issues with the help of ARIA.

WAI-ARIA mistake #01: Incorrect WAI-ARIA syntax

As you know, most technologies require a certain syntax in order for things to work as expected. Similarly, WAI-ARIA also requires a certain syntax in order for things to work the way they’re supposed to. Failing to provide the correct syntax can lead to unexpected results. Let’s discuss some of the common syntax errors that author introduce in their code, and result in assistive technologies not working as expected.

  • Role values are assumed to be case insensitive: Role values define the purpose of objects in the page. Authors often fail to implement these values following the lowercase convention established by the WAI-ARIA specification. For example, role=”LINK” can be provided, with the value types in as uppercase letters and as a result, assistive technologies cannot identify the object as a link. Authors need to remember that role values are case sensitive, and need to be typed in lowercase.
  • Incorrect spelling for attributes or values: Attributes are often spelled incorrectly. For example, aria-label might be spelled out as aria-lable. As a result, screen readers fail to announce the accessible name of the control. Authors need to be mindful and make sure attributes are spelled correctly.
  • Incorrect or invalid role declarations: Authors sometimes declare roles incorrectly. For example, role=”alert” might be declared as aria-role=”alert”. As a result, screen readers will fail to announce the live message. Authors need to avoid such mistakes and make sure to declare the roles appropriately using role=””, and not aria-role=””.
  • Role do not exist or are invalid: Authors sometimes provide a role that does not exist according to the WAI-ARIA specification, somehow thinking it will still work, or will serve the same purpose. For example, authors might provide role=”error” for the error message in an attempt to convey the error semantics, but there is no such thing as role=”error” in the specification. Authors should become very familiar with the allowed role values to avoid such issues.

WAI-ARIA mistake #02: Children roles without parent roles

                Authors frequently define children roles on objects without first defining their parent role. As you may or may not know, certain roles cannot be used without their related parent/context roles. For example, a tab role might be defined without its tablist parent role. As a result, screen              readers may not work as expected. Some screen reader and browser combinations will still provide the information as expected, but others won’t, making it a very unreliable solution. Authors need to make sure that children roles are provided with their contextual or related parent roles.

WAI-ARIA mistake #03: Parent roles without children roles

Similarly, many times we see authors provide a parent role without defining the expected related children roles. As you may or may not know from the specification, certain roles cannot be defined without also defining their related children roles. For example, when menu or menubar roles are defined without the expected menuitem children roles for related objects, screen readers may not be able to convey the relationship as expected. Again, some screen reader and browser combinations will still provide the information as expected, but others won’t, making it a very unreliable solution. Authors need to make sure that parent roles are provided with their contextual or related children roles.

WAI-ARIA mistake #04: Invalid ID value references

We frequently see authors providing incorrect or inaccurate ID reference values for certain attributes. As you may or may not know, attributes are set to only accept ID references as their respective values, such as the aria-labelledby, aria-describedby, and aria-errormessage attributes. If authors provide an incorrect ID value, or assign an ID that does not exist in the document, then screen readers will not be able to create the reference and announce the information as expected (ex: the element’s label, the related instructions, the error message, etc). To avoid these situations, authors need to make sure that the ID values that are defined for WAI-ARIA attributes are valid.

WAI-ARIA mistake #05: Allowed WAI-ARIA attributes missing

We often see authors use WAI-ARIA attributes in ways that go against what is defined in the specification, hoping to make things better for accessibility. As you may or may not know, certain roles only allow for certain attributes. As an example, authors might assign aria-selected=”true” to the anchor/link element, falsely thinking that screen readers will announce the selected state of the anchor/link. However, since aria-selected is not allowed on link elements as per the WAI-ARIA spec, screen readers will NOT announce the selected state of such an element. On the other hand, when aria-selected attributes are used with certain roles such as treeitem, tab, gridcell and so on, it can work really well. Authors need to make sure that the attributes they assign to particular roles are allowed for those roles.

WAI-ARIA mistake #06: Required WAI-ARIA attributes missing

We sometimes see authors define WAI-ARIA roles without defining their expected required attributes. As you may or may not know, certain WAI-ARIA roles cannot be defined without also defining their expected required attributes. For example, when the slider role is defined on an object, certain attributes such as aria-valuemin, aria-valuemax and aria-valuenow must also be defined. Failing to do so results in screen readers not conveying the information as expected. Therefore, authors need to make sure they provide all expected required roles and attributes when a particular WAI-ARIA role is used.

Oh, wait! I have a quick tip

If you are wondering how to catch all these 6 mistakes then use Deque axe  tool. Yes, AXE catches all of the 6 mistakes that we have discussed in this blog post. You just need to run the AXE tool and that is all, it throws the issues!

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