EPUB Type to ARIA Role Authoring Guide 1.1

W3C Group Note

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This document provides guidance for publishers looking to move from the use of the EPUB 3 epub:type attribute to ARIA roles for accessibility.

Status of This Document

This section describes the status of this document at the time of its publication. A list of current W3C publications and the latest revision of this technical report can be found in the W3C technical reports index at https://www.w3.org/TR/.

This document was published by the EPUB 3 Working Group as a Group Note using the Note track.

Group Notes are not endorsed by W3C nor its Members.

This is a draft document and may be updated, replaced or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to cite this document as other than work in progress.

The W3C Patent Policy does not carry any licensing requirements or commitments on this document.

This document is governed by the 2 November 2021 W3C Process Document.

1. Introduction

It is important to understand the differences between the epub:type attribute [epub-3] and the role attribute [wai-aria] to ensure that they are properly applied for their intended purposes and audiences.

The biggest of these differences is in their primary applications. The epub:type attribute has evolved to aid publisher workflows. It has limited use enabling reading system behaviors outside of some core functionality of EPUB (identifying navigation elements and enhancing media overlay documents). Although it was hoped the attribute would also expose information to assistive technologies, in practice it does not.

The primary purpose of the role attribute, on the other hand, is to expose information to assistive technologies. It is not to facilitate user agent behaviors.

The result of these differences is that the application of epub:type semantics is largely harmless, but misapplication of ARIA roles can have negative impacts on the reading experience, from over-announcement of information to broken rendering for assistive technology users.

This guide addresses key authoring differences to be aware of when migrating to ARIA roles from the epub:type attribute, or when using both attributes together. The goal is to help publishers avoid the pitfalls of applying ARIA roles like they would epub:type semantics and breaking the reading experience for users of assistive technologies.


This guide is not intended as a comprehensive overview of ARIA roles. For more information about ARIA and how to apply it to HTML document, refer to [wai-aria] and [html-aria], respectively.

2. Mapping types to roles

ARIA roles are more restricted in where you can use them than EPUB's structural semantics. Although there are elements that accept any role, you need to take care to ensure that roles are only used where they will make sense to users of assistive technologies.

The following table maps the semantics from the EPUB Structural Semantics Vocabulary [epub-ssv-11] to the corresponding roles in [wai-aria] and the [dpub-aria] module.

As the use of the epub:type attribute [epub-3] is much more liberal than the role attribute [wai-aria], you cannot interchange types and roles on every HTML element, even when a role mapping exists. The elements you are allowed to use roles on are identified in the last column of the table. In addition, refer to the note at the end of the table for the list of elements that accept any role value.

[epub-ssv-11] [epub-3] manifest [dpub-aria] [wai-aria] Elements Allowed On*
abstract doc-abstract section
acknowledgments doc-acknowledgments section
afterword doc-afterword section
answer No Role
answers No Role
appendix doc-appendix section
assessment No Role
assessments No Role
backmatter No Role
balloon No Role
biblioentry doc-biblioentry
See List Roles
bibliography doc-bibliography section
biblioref doc-biblioref a
bodymatter No Role
bridgehead No Role
case-study No Role
chapter doc-chapter section
colophon doc-colophon section
concluding-sentence No Role
conclusion doc-conclusion section
contributors No Role
copyright-page No Role
cover No Role
cover-image doc-cover img
covertitle No Role
credit doc-credit section
credits doc-credits section
dedication doc-dedication section
division No Role
endnote doc-endnote
See List Roles.
endnotes doc-endnotes section
epigraph doc-epigraph
epilogue doc-epilogue section
errata doc-errata section
No Equivalent doc-example aside, section
feedback No Role
figure figure
fill-in-the-blank-problem No Role
footnote doc-footnote aside, footer, header
footnotes No Role
foreword doc-foreword section
frontmatter No Role
fulltitle No Role
general-problem No Role
glossary doc-glossary section
glossterm term
glossdef definition
glossref doc-glossref a
halftitle No Role
halftitlepage No Role
imprint No Role
imprimatur No Role
index doc-index nav, section
index-headnotes No Role
index-legend No Role
index-group No Role
index-entry-list No Role
index-entry No Role
index-term No Role
index-editor-note No Role
index-locator No Role
index-locator-list No Role
index-locator-range No Role
index-xref-preferred No Role
index-xref-related No Role
index-term-category No Role
index-term-categories No Role
introduction doc-introduction section
keyword No Role
keywords No Role
label No Role
landmarks directory ol, ul
learning-objective No Role
learning-objectives No Role
learning-outcome No Role
learning-outcomes No Role
learning-resource No Role
learning-resources No Role
learning-standard No Role
learning-standards No Role
list list
list-item listitem
loa No Role
loi No Role
lot No Role
lov No Role
match-problem No Role
multiple-choice-problem No Role
noteref doc-noteref a
notice doc-notice section
ordinal No Role
other-credits No Role
panel No Role
panel-group No Role
pagebreak doc-pagebreak hr
page-list doc-pagelist nav, section
part doc-part section
practice No Role
practices No Role
preamble No Role
preface doc-preface section
prologue doc-prologue section
pullquote doc-pullquote aside, section
question No Role
qna doc-qna section
backlink doc-backlink a
revision-history No Role
seriespage No Role
sound-area No Role
subchapter No Role
subtitle doc-subtitle h1-h6
table table
table-row row
table-cell cell
text-area No Role
tip doc-tip aside
title No Role
titlepage No Role
toc doc-toc nav, section
toc-brief No Role
topic-sentence No Role
true-false-problem No Role
volume No Role

Refer to the ARIA in HTML [html-aria] document for more information about the correct use of ARIA roles, states and properties. It provides the authoritative list of roles that are allowed on an element, and the elements that accept any role.

3. Guidelines

3.1 Do not overload roles

Only use one digital publishing role per role attribute [wai-aria].

If you include a second role, it must be a fallback from [wai-aria].


The fallback must not be an Abstract roles [wai-aria]. These roles are never allowed in the role attribute.

Unlike the epub:type attribute [epub-3], the order of roles is important, and only the first recognized role is applied to an element.

3.2 Avoid unnecessary repetition

Do not reapply a semantic just because your content has been chunked into separate files.

For example, ensure that the doc-part role [dpub-aria] is only applied to the section that contains the heading for the part. Do not reapply the part role for each chapter that belongs to the part, as it will be announced to users of assistive technologies each time it occurs, causing confusion.

3.3 Supply labels

If a landmark role (e.g., doc-chapter, doc-part, doc-index [dpub-aria]) does not include a label, assistive technologies will only announce the generic name of the role in the landmarks.

To include a more descriptive label, use the aria-labelledby attribute [wai-aria] to associate the label with the role.

If a label is not available in the text, you can supply one in an aria-label attribute [wai-aria].

If a document contains more than one instance of the same landmark role, each instance needs to be uniquely labelled to allow users to tell them apart.

3.4 Do not override the body element

The epub:type attribute [epub-3] may be used to inflect sectioning semantics on the [html] body element (e.g., to indicate front matter, or to avoid using sectioning elements), but this practice is both invalid and harmful with ARIA roles.

The body element has the implied role document [wai-aria], and you cannot define any other role on it [html-aria]. Changing the role of the body element can affect the ability to read the content for users of assistive technologies.

3.5 List roles are for lists

Assigning a role to an element overrides its default nature, so use care when applying roles to lists and list items.

Just as [html] ol and ul list elements must contain list items, elements assigned a list role must only contain elements assigned a list item role.

Similarly, a list item must always be enclosed inside of a list.


Due to a change in the [wai-aria] roles model, list item roles defined in modules no longer satisfy the requirement that the list role have list item children. As a result, use of the doc-biblioentry and doc-endnote roles [dpub-aria] is now deprecated.

These roles are now implied on list items within sections that have a doc-bibliography or doc-endnotes role [dpub-aria], respectively.

<section role="doc-bibliography">
   <h2>Select Bibliography</h2>
      <li><-- Implied bibliography entry --></li></ol>

3.6 Cover role is for images

Although the doc-cover role [dpub-aria] seems like it should be the same as the cover semantic [epub-ssv-11], it is actually related to the cover-image semantic [epub-3] used to identify cover images in the EPUB package document. The role is used to identify an image that represents the cover.

Do not use this role to identify a section of content containing the cover. Placing the role on an [html] section element, for example, informs assistive technologies to treat the element like they would an image. In practical terms, this means that none of its content will be available.

If a section of cover content needs to be identified as a landmark, you can use the aria-label or aria-labelledby attributes [wai-aria] with a section element.


For [html] div elements, the general region role [wai-aria] is also needed. For more information about how to use roles in content, refer to ARIA in HTML [html-aria].

A. References

A.1 Informative references

Digital Publishing WAI-ARIA Module. W3C.
EPUB 3. W3C.
EPUB 3 Structural Semantics Vocabulary 1.1. Ivan Herman; Matt Garrish. W3C. 13 January 2023. W3C Working Group Note. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/epub-ssv-11/
HTML Standard. Anne van Kesteren; Domenic Denicola; Ian Hickson; Philip Jägenstedt; Simon Pieters. WHATWG. Living Standard. URL: https://html.spec.whatwg.org/multipage/
ARIA in HTML. Steve Faulkner; Scott O'Hara; Patrick Lauke. W3C. 15 February 2023. W3C Recommendation. URL: https://www.w3.org/TR/html-aria/
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA). W3C.