Understanding Success Criterion 1.3.2: Meaningful Sequence

When the sequence in which content is presented affects its meaning, a correct reading sequence can be programmatically determined.

Intent of Success Criterion 1.3.2: Meaningful Sequence

The intent of this Success Criterion is to enable a user agent to provide an alternative presentation of content while preserving the reading order needed to understand the meaning. It is important that it be possible to programmatically determine at least one sequence of the content that makes sense. Content that does not meet this Success Criterion may confuse or disorient users when assistive technology reads the content in the wrong order, or when alternate style sheets or other formatting changes are applied.

A sequence is meaningful if the order of content in the sequence cannot be changed without affecting its meaning. For example, if a page contains two independent articles, the relative order of the articles may not affect their meaning, as long as they are not interleaved. In such a situation, the articles themselves may have meaningful sequence, but the container that contains the articles may not have a meaningful sequence.

The semantics of some elements define whether or not their content is a meaningful sequence. For instance, in HTML, text is always a meaningful sequence. Tables and ordered lists are meaningful sequences, but unordered lists are not.

The order of content in a sequence is not always meaningful. For example, the relative order of the main section of a Web page and a navigation section does not affect their meaning. They could occur in either order in the programmatically determined reading sequence. As another example, a magazine article contains several callout sidebars. The order of the article and the sidebars does not affect their meaning. In these cases there are a number of different reading orders for a Web page that can satisfy the Success Criterion.

For clarity:

  1. Providing a particular linear order is only required where it affects meaning.
  2. There may be more than one order that is "correct" (according to the WCAG 2.0 definition).
  3. Only one correct order needs to be provided.

Benefits of Success Criterion 1.3.2: Meaningful Sequence

Examples of Success Criterion 1.3.2: Meaningful Sequence

Resources Success Criterion 1.3.2: Meaningful Sequence

Techniques for Success Criterion 1.3.2: Meaningful Sequence

Sufficient Techniques

  1. Ordering the content in a meaningful sequence for all the content in the Web page
  2. Marking sequences in the content as meaningful using one of the following techniques AND Ordering the content in a meaningful sequence for those sequences

  3. Making the DOM order match the visual order
  4. Using the tabIndex property to specify a logical reading order in Flash
  5. PDF3
  6. SL34

Advisory Techniques

  • Using left-justified text for languages that are written left to right and right-justified text for languages that are written right-to-left (future link)
  • Providing a link to linearized rendering (future link)
  • Providing a style switcher between style sheets that affect presentation order (future link)

Failures