Techniques for WCAG 2.0

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ARIA12: Using role=heading to identify headings

Important Information about Techniques

See Understanding Techniques for WCAG Success Criteria for important information about the usage of these informative techniques and how they relate to the normative WCAG 2.0 success criteria. The Applicability section explains the scope of the technique, and the presence of techniques for a specific technology does not imply that the technology can be used in all situations to create content that meets WCAG 2.0.


Technologies that support Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA).

This technique relates to:

User Agent and Assistive Technology Support Notes

See User Agent Support Notes for ARIA12. Also see WAI-ARIA Technology Notes.


The purpose of this technique is to provide a way for Assistive Technologies (AT) to identify a piece of content as a heading. Applying role="heading" to an element causes an AT (like a screen reader) to treat it as though it were a heading.

If there is more than one heading on the page and the heading hierarchy is defined through the visual presentation, the aria-level attribute should be used to indicate the hierarchical level of the heading.

When possible, use native heading mark-up directly. For example, it is preferable to use h1 rather than using <div role="heading" aria-level="1">. However, the use of the heading role, instead of heading mark-up, may be necessary. For example, when retrofitting a legacy site where scripts depend on the existing element hierarchy.

The use of the heading role and nesting levels is discussed in WAI-ARIA 1.0 Authoring Practices.


Example 1: Simple headings

This example demonstrates how to implement simple headings using role="heading" when retrofitting a legacy site where scripts depend on the existing element hierarchy or the level is unknown. For example, web content which is syndicated from various sources may be constructed without knowledge of what the final presentation will be.

<div role="heading">Global News items</div>
... a list of global news with editorial comment....

<div role="heading">Local News items</div>
... a list of local news, with editorial comment ...

Example 2: Additional heading levels

This example demonstrates how to implement a level 7 heading using role="heading" and the aria-level attribute. Since HTML only supports headings through level 6, there is no native element to provide these semantics.

<h5>Fruit Trees</h5>
<p>Apples grow on trees in areas known as orchards...</p>
<div role="heading" aria-level="7">Jonagold/div>
<p>Jonagold is a cross between the Golden Delicious and Jonathan varieties...</p>


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  1. Examine each element with the attribute role="heading".

  2. Determine whether the content of the element is appropriate as a heading.

  3. If the element has an aria-level attribute, determine whether the value is the appropriate hierarchical level.

Expected Results

If this is a sufficient technique for a success criterion, failing this test procedure does not necessarily mean that the success criterion has not been satisfied in some other way, only that this technique has not been successfully implemented and can not be used to claim conformance.