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Accessibility Errors


Why

Everyone make mistakes. When we do, we need to understand why we have failed, to be able to correct ourselves. An accessible form needs error messages that is perceivable and understandable for people who is color blind, who is blind or low vision, and people with limited cognitive abilities. 


What

An accessible error message is

  • written in text. Color and icon can be used, but not alone.
  • close to the element that has failed.
  • informative, helping the user.
  • associated to the failed element in the code.

In addition, is is helpful to move the focus to the form control that has failed.

Screenshot from a form field with a red error beneath.

In this registration form, the user has typed a number instead of characters.



How

You will learn five techniques for creating accessible error messages.

Written in text

The error message is written in text, in addition to a warning icon and red border. Three different indicators makes this error situation clear to the user. Only an icon and a red border would not have been sufficient for all users to understand.

Close together

Design elements near each other are perceived as related, while elements spaced apart are perceived as belonging to separate groups.

Design elements near each other are perceived as related, while elements spaced apart are perceived as belonging to separate groups.

—Nielsen Norman Group, Proximity Principle in Visual Design
Screenshot from a form with two errors. The error message are close underneath to the input fields.

In this example the errors are close to the failing fields. In combination with a big margin between the fields, it is easy to understand where the error messages belongs.

Informative

The more informative, the better.

In our first example the error "Your first name must have at least two letters and no unusual characters" is informative. It is written in a human language. It can be improved, written even more precise:

"Your first name must have only letters, not numbers."

The more precise, the better. This means that the system needs more error messages for different situations. Be pragmatic when deciding how many different error messages and situations you will create. Ask the users if they understand what is wrong. If not, write the error more precise. 

Assosiated with the form control

But what about the code?

<input name="firstName" id="firstNameInput" type="text" pattern="[^.]*?">

<p id="firstName-length-error" role="alert">Your first name must have at least two letters and no unusual characters</p>

The error has the role alert. This is good. It would make a screen reader read out the content, even though it is not in focus.

The error message is not assosiated with the field. This can be done using the aria-describedby attribute. The value is the ID of the error message.

Also, we should add aria-invalid="true" on the invalid form control to tell screen readers that the form control has failed. An improved version of the input field:

<input name="firstName" id="firstNameInput" type="text" pattern="[^.]*?" aria-describedby="firstName-length-error" aria-invalid="true">

Move focus

This is more important for server-side validations, compared to client-side validation. When the user submits a form, the focus moves to the first invalid field.

Screenshot of a form, showing three input fields. The first is in focus, the last two has errors.

In this example, all three fields have been invalid. The focus was moved to the first field, First name. The error is removed when the user starts typing.