Clear Instructions on Forms
Make sure that any instructions, error messages, and guidance are easily understood. Avoid technical language that is unnecessary, but describe any requirements for user input, like the format for a date.
For online forms, put labels and instructions in the proper places so that the user can easily recognize what input is expected of them, as well as how to submit the form and how to clear the contents of a form.
These instructions will need to be able to be spoken by a screen reader, or read with the assistance of a screen magnifier, and should be navigational with a keyboard in order to be accessible to all users.
Options and recommendations
There are several types of electronic forms. They are discussed from most recommended to least.
Campus web forms are normally created with LiveWhale Forms (the preferred method) and Select Survey. However, there are other methods of form creation including SurveyMonkey and submit-able, but we encourage staff to stick with LiveWhale forms when possible.
- No need to manage results
- Simple statistics are usually immediately available
Word can be used to created accessible electronic forms.
- Users can adjust the forms unless they are protected.
- Protecting forms removes their accessibility.
Creating accessible fillable PDF forms is difficult. We recommend the above methods if at all possible.
If you are required to create a fillable PDF forms, the following links may be helpful:
More information on labels, errors, and forms
Note: This section is more complex than the others. If it’s too complicated, consider skipping it for now and proceeding through the remaining checks.
Labels, keyboard access, clear instructions, and effective error handling are important for forms accessibility.
Form fields and other form controls usually have visible labels, such as “E-mail Address:” as the label for a text field.
When these labels are marked up correctly, people can interact with them using only the keyboard, using voice input, and using screen readers. Also, the label itself becomes clickable, increasing the target area and making it easier to select small radio buttons or checkboxes.
What to do:
Find any forms on the page. A form could be a single text box, such as Search, or could be a complex form with text fields, radio buttons, checkboxes, drop-down lists, and buttons.
What to check for:
- Check that all form controls are keyboard accessible by following the keyboard access checks above, including checking that you can get to all items in any drop-down lists.
- Check that every form control has a label associated with it using ‘label’, ‘for’, and ‘id’, as shown in the labels checks below. (This is best practice in most cases, though not a requirement because a form control label can be associated in other ways.)
- Check that the labels are positioned correctly. For left-to-right languages, labels should usually be:
- Left of text boxes and drop-down lists.
- Right of radio buttons and checkboxes.
- Left of text boxes and drop-down lists.
Required fields and other instructions
- Check that any fields that are required/mandatory are clearly indicated.
- Check that the indicator does not rely on color alone, for example, if required fields were only indicated by red colored labels, they would not be accessible to people who do not see the different colors.
- Check that the indicator (such as asterisks (*)) is included in the marked up field label for text boxes and drop-down lists, or legend for radio buttons and checkboxes, as shown in the labels checks below.
- Check that any instructions for completing the form are before they are needed, for example,
- General instructions should usually be at the top of the form or the section they relate to.
- Check that required formats, such as dates (year-month-date in the format 0000-00-00), are included in the marked up label, using the labels checks below.
Some simple forms, such as a single search field, might not have any errors. If you think the form(s) on the page you are checking might have error messages, try leaving required fields blank or entering incorrectly-formatted information (such as telephone number or e-mail address), then submitting the form. If you get errors:
- Check that clear and specific guidance is provided to help people understand and fix the error. If the error concerns a format such as date, time, or address, check that the correct format is clearly explained.
- Check that the errors are easily findable. Generally it is best if the error messages are before the form, rather than after the form.
- Check that the fields without errors are still populated with the data you entered. (This is best practice, though not a requirement.) People should not have to re-enter all the information in the form, except for some sensitive data such as credit card numbers.
Status: Updated 9 August 2017 [changelog] “Easy Checks - A First Review of Web Accessibility” was first published as a draft in June 2013. It replaces “Preliminary Review of Web Sites for Accessibility” that was first published September 2005 and edited by Shadi Abou-Zahra. It was originally one section of “Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility” that was first published in October 2001 and edited by Judy Brewer and Chuck Letourneau. Editor: Shawn Lawton Henry. Contributors: Sharron Rush, Suzette Keith, Anna Belle Leiserson, Andrew Arch, Wayne Dick, Eric Eggert, Caleb Watson, Vicki Menezes Miller, Jennifer Sutton, Ian Pouncey, Denis Boudreau, Tom Jewett, and participants of the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG). Copyright © 2016 W3C ® (MIT, ERCIM, Keio, Beihang) Usage policies apply.