Techniques for WCAG 2.0

Skip to Content (Press Enter)


H39: Using caption elements to associate data table captions with data tables

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.


HTML and XHTML data tables

This technique relates to:


The objective of this technique is to programmatically associate captions for data tables where captions are provided in the presentation. The caption for a table is a table identifier and acts like a title or heading for the table.

The caption element is the appropriate markup for such text and it ensures that the table identifier remains associated with the table, including visually (by default). In addition, using the caption element allows screen reading software to navigate directly to the caption for a table if one is present.

The caption element may be used whether or not the table includes a summary attribute. The caption element identifies the table whereas the summary attribute gives an overview of the purpose or explains how to navigate the table. If both are used, the summary should not duplicate information in the caption .

Note: Although WCAG 2.0 does not prohibit the use of layout tables, CSS-based layouts are recommended in order to retain the defined semantic meaning of the HTML and XHTML table elements and to conform to the coding practice of separating presentation from content. If a table is used for layout, the caption element is not used. The purpose of a layout table is simply to control the placement of content; the table itself is “transparent" to the user. A caption would "break" this transparency by calling attention to the table. See F46: Failure of Success Criterion 1.3.1 due to using th elements, caption elements, or non-empty summary attributes in layout tables for details..


Example 1: An appointment calendar with a caption

Example Code:

<caption>Schedule for the week of March 6</caption>


Resources are for information purposes only, no endorsement implied.



For each data table:

  1. Check that the table includes a caption element.

  2. Check that the content of the caption element identifies the table.

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.