Skip to content

Cognitive Accessibility Design Pattern: Provide Help for Forms and Non-standard Controls

User Need

I need explanations for unusual controls in a form I find easy to use (such as a video or text).

What to Do

Provide help for any complex forms, particularly when there are multiple steps, unusual interactions, non-standard controls, and required fields that do not support autocomplete. Give examples that make it easy to understand what to do.

How it Helps

Users often find forms and related tasks to be the most complex experience with web sites. They can easily become confused, unsure, or even completely lost. Providing extra help can make the difference between being able to successfully complete a task and giving up. This is especially true if any part of the form is complex or requires nonstandard interactions.

Many standard form controls provide support automatically. For example, many fields can be automatically filled in with information using autocomplete or personalization semantics [[personalization-semantics-content-1.0]]. Then the user will not make mistakes filling it out.

When you require additional fields and nonstandard controls many users will have difficulty using them. Many users with disabilities will get the information incorrect or be unable to work out how to complete the task. Often this results in the task being completely abandoned. In other cases, the user asks a caregiver for help to complete the form or work the control. In either case, they have not been able to complete the task because of their disability.

The standard [[HTML]] forms and controls have been carefully specified for maximum usability and accessibility. They are usually understood by users, especially if they are familiar with web interactions. However, users are likely to experience difficulties if the standard form behavior has been altered or completely new controls are provided. Assuming the new behaviors have been carefully designed and user tested, users may still require help in order to successfully use them.

More Details

Examples of forms and controls that are likely to require additional help:

  • Password fields that require certain character types of characters to be entered.
  • Surveys with complex interactions, for example, where buttons only appear depending on previous answers.
  • Date entry where there could be some ambiguity about the required format.
  • Custom controls like date pickers where some dates may be grayed out.



  1. Standard controls
  2. Non-standard controls and form fields with instructions or help. For example:
    • An accessible help button next to a nonstandard control.
    • A standard mechanism for context sensitive help. This can include using personalization semantics for context sensitive help.
    • Clear and unambiguous instructions that are easy to find.


  1. Non-standard controls and unusual form fields that do not have instructions or help. For example:
    • A form has a complex mechanism for enabling and disabling sections as you scroll or tab between them, but no help is provided.

User Stories and Personas

User Story



Back to Top