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Please stop building inaccessible forms (and how to fix them)

February 04, 2019

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Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash


I regularly find inaccessible forms. In this post we'll check out some common accessibility problems and fix them.

Note, today's blog post is very heavily inspired by the Labeling Controls tutorial from w3.org.

HTML is accessible by default. This is true, with the important caveat that when you use semantic HTML properly, what you've built will be accessible. Now, there are lots of ways that you can mess this up. Today I'm going to focus on <label> and how to ensure that your form controls (inputs) are properly labeled.

Before I get into that, allow me to just take a quick tangent and say this: PLEASE USE YOUR FORM WITH NOTHING BUT THE KEYBOARD AND SEE IF IT IS POSSIBLE. So many forms are impossible to use without a mouse and it drives me crazy. Lucky for me I can use a mouse, but so many people in the world cannot. For them, it is impossible to fill out your form.

Ok, so let's talk about labels.

I'm regularly confronted with a form control that's written like this:

1Username: <input />

To a seeing user, this looks fine, but to a blind user, they'll need to use a screen reader and without a label the user is left to their best guess as to what the input is expecting when they focus on the input.

But it takes more than just putting the label text in a <label> input. So this wont work:

1<label>Username</label> <input />

⚡️ You can know that the input has a label associated with it by checking the input's labels property or the label's control property.

Ok, here are four ways to associate the label with the input (in order of personal preference):

label[for] ➡ input[id]

1<label for="username">Username</label> <input id="username" />

input[aria-labeledby] ➡ label[id]

1<label id="username">Username</label> <input aria-labeledby="username" />

label 🤗 input

I like to think of this one as the label hugging the input

1<label>
2 Username
3 <input />
4</label>

This one works fine and it's nice because it means you don't have to make globally unique IDs (typically in a client-rendered app I'll generate those randomly anyway), but it's not my favorite mostly because it can be harder to style things the way I want them to, and getByLabelText requires you provide a selector when you do this.

input[aria-label]

1<input aria-label="Username" />

I don't really like this approach because it removes a visible label which has other accessibility implications.

Conclusion

You can actually also use the title attribute, but apparently screen readers are inconsistent in considering this a label, so just stick with one of the above methods.

As a bonus, when you properly associate a label to a form control, the clickable area of the form control includes the label which is especially useful for checkboxes and people on mobile devices.

Another bonus: you'll be able to use getByLabelText and that'll make your tests resemble the way your software is used more closely which is great!

You can read more about this here: Using label elements to associate text labels with form controls.

I hope that's helpful to you. Again, in addition to making sure that your form controls are properly labeled, please please try using your form with a keyboard only. They're both very low hanging fruit and can make a big difference in the accessibility of your forms.

Install and use eslint-plugin-jsx-a11y

Good luck! 💪


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Kent C. Dodds

Kent C. Dodds is a JavaScript software engineer and teacher. He's taught hundreds of thousands of people how to make the world a better place with quality software development tools and practices. He lives with his wife and four kids in Utah.