Understanding Success Criterion 3.3.2: Labels or Instructions

Success Criterion 3.3.2 Labels or Instructions (Level A): Labels or instructions are provided when content requires user input.

Intent

The intent of this Success Criterion is to have content authors present instructions or labels that identify the controls in a form so that users know what input data is expected. Instructions or labels may also specify data formats for fields especially if they are out of the customary formats or if there are specific rules for correct input. Content authors may also choose to make such instructions available to users only when the individual control has focus especially when instructions are long and verbose.

The intent of this Success Criterion is not to clutter the page with unnecessary information but to provide important cues and instructions that will benefit people with disabilities. Too much information or instruction can be just as harmful as too little. The goal is to make certain that enough information is provided for the user to accomplish the task without undue confusion or navigation.

This Success Criterion does not require that labels or instructions be correctly marked up, identified, or associated with their respective controls - this aspect is covered separately by 1.3.1: Info and Relationships. It is possible for content to pass this Success Criterion (providing relevant labels and instructions) while failing Success Criterion 1.3.1 (if the labels or instructions aren't correctly marked up, identified, or associated).

Further, this Success Criterion does not take into consideration whether or not alternative methods of providing an accessible name or description for form controls and inputs has been used - this aspect is covered separately by 4.1.2: Name, Role and Value. It is possible for controls and inputs to have an appropriate accessible name or description (e.g. using aria-label="...") and therefore pass Success Criterion 4.1.2, but to still fail this Success Criterion (if the labels or instructions aren't presented to all users, not just those using assistive technologies).

While this Success Criterion requires that controls and inputs have labels, whether or not these labels are sufficiently clear or descriptive is covered separately by 2.4.6: Headings and Labels.

Benefits

Examples

Techniques

Each numbered item in this section represents a technique or combination of techniques that the WCAG Working Group deems sufficient for meeting this Success Criterion. However, it is not necessary to use these particular techniques. For information on using other techniques, see Understanding Techniques for WCAG Success Criteria, particularly the "Other Techniques" section.

Sufficient Techniques

  1. G131: Providing descriptive labels AND one of the following:

  2. H44: Using label elements to associate text labels with form controls
  3. FLASH32: Using auto labeling to associate text labels with form controls
  4. FLASH29: Setting the label property for form components
  5. FLASH25: Labeling a form control by setting its accessible name
  6. PDF10: Providing labels for interactive form controls in PDF documents
  7. SL26: Using LabeledBy to Associate Labels and Targets in Silverlight
  8. H71: Providing a description for groups of form controls using fieldset and legend elements
  9. FLASH8: Adding a group name to the accessible name of a form control
  10. SL8: Displaying HelpText in Silverlight User Interfaces
  11. G167: Using an adjacent button to label the purpose of a field
Note

The techniques at the end of the above list should be considered "last resort" and only used when the other techniques cannot be applied to the page. The earlier techniques are preferred because they increase accessibility to a wider user group.

Advisory Techniques

Although not required for conformance, the following additional techniques should be considered in order to make content more accessible. Not all techniques can be used or would be effective in all situations.

Failures

The following are common mistakes that are considered failures of this Success Criterion by the WCAG Working Group.

Key Terms

label

text or other component with a text alternative that is presented to a user to identify a component within Web content

Note

A label is presented to all users whereas the name may be hidden and only exposed by assistive technology. In many (but not all) cases the name and the label are the same.

Note

The term label is not limited to the label element in HTML.