Accessible Rich Internet Applications – or ARIA – is a set of attributes and roles defined by the Web Accessibility Initiative. These make the web more accessible to people with disabilities.

ARIA is extremely important for building accessible web applications. But it's very easy to misuse ARIA and make the website less accessible.

This article will demonstrate five common ARIA mistakes and how to fix them.

Don't Use Unnecessary ARIA Labels

The first rule of ARIA is that you should not use ARIA unless you have to. HTML elements already have accessibility built in, and adding unnecessary ARIA labels can break accessibility.

For that reason, it's much better to use HTML elements, instead of constructing code with ARIA labels.

Example of misusing ARIA labels:

⛔ BAD: Below is a button element with aria-label:

<button aria-label="Send">Send</button>

✅ GOOD: Below is a button element:


In the examples above, I am creating a button element. In the first code snippet, there is a aria-label with the label, “send”. HTML’s button element already has accessibility built into it. It is not necessary to add an aria-label so it's much better to remove the label.

The button element will read the text inside it already. We do not need to add the aria-label to describe it.

Takeaway: Don’t add unnecessary ARIA labels if you can use accessible HTML elements instead.

Don't Use the Wrong ARIA Attributes

There are pre-defined ARIA states and properties defined by the ARIA working group, which is part of World Wide Web Consortium.

Developers should use the states and properties available – you cannot create your own in your code. You can find the list of properties and states on W3's Website.

Example of using incorrect ARIA attributes:


<span aria-donotshow="true">Don’t show this</span>


<span aria-hidden="true">Don’t show this</span>

This means that a new property, like aria-donotshow, is not correct. aria-donotshow is not a property in the W3 website so you shouldn't use it.

Takeaway: Don’t create your own ARIA attributes. You can only use the ones defined by the ARIA working group.

Know When to Use aria-labelledby

Another common mistake is when developers use aria-label to describe content inside the DOM.

All interactive elements need an accessible name. If we want to add an accessible name to an element where the name needs some content from elsewhere in the DOM, we should use aria-labelledby. If there is no content that can be referred to to create an accessible name, then we can use aria-label.

Example of when to use aria-labelledby:


<div aria-label="Related Content">				
    <span>Related Content</span>		


<div aria-labelledby="nav-title">				
    <span id='nav-title'>Related Content</span>		

In the example above, the first code snippet uses aria-label and associates it with the text, “Related content”. But the span inside the text already has the correct content we want a screen reader to read.

Instead of using aria-label in this example, we should reference the span content by adding aria-labelledby that is associated with the id of the content we want to reference.

Takeaway: If you want to reference content from inside the DOM, use aria-labelledby with corresponding id.

Know When to Use aria-describedby

Sometimes, we need to give more information to an element. For example, we might want to tell the user that the button they will press will open a new tab.

This information is important because the user needs to know where they are when navigating websites.

For these types of scenarios, we can use aria-describedby to give additional information.



<button aria-label="Close" aria-label="Opens in a new tab">	
Show related		


<button aria-label="Close" aria-describedby="description">			Show related		
<div id="description">Opens in a new tab</div>

In the first example above, what engineers expect the screen reader to announce is: “button, Show related, opens in a new tab”.

But the screen reader does not do that. Instead, it says,“button, opens in a new tab”. The screen reader does not read the content inside, because aria-label always overrides the text content of the HTML5 element it has been applied to.

The second code snipped shows the correct way to use aria-describedby. The screen reader will read, “button, Show related, opens in a new tab”.

That information tells the user that the button is to show related content and if they press that button, it will navigate them to another tab.

Takeaway: Use aria-describedby to add additional information to elements.

Don't Use ARIA Child Roles Without Parent Roles

There are some ARIA attributes that require a child/parent relationship. This means that you cannot use the ARIA child attribute without wrapping it around its parent ARIA attribute.

It’s easy to forget the child/parent relationship and build code that only uses the parent attribute without the child, or to build code that only uses child attribute without its parent.

If you forget the child/parent relationship, the code becomes more inaccessible, which defeats the purpose of ARIA.


⛔ BAD:

role="listbox" is a parent property. The ul list below does not have role=option which is its child property.

<div role="listbox">


role="listbox" is a parent property. The ul list below has role=option which is its child property.

<div role="listbox">
        <li option="option"></li>

In the code example above, the first code has a code snippet that has role=listbox which is a parent element. listbox needs children inside which is option. We cannot use listbox on its own to build accessible web sites.

Takeaway: Always use child/parent properties together.


ARIA is a set of attributes and roles defined by WAI to make the web more accessible to people with disabilities. Although it's necessary to create an accessible web, it is very easy to misuse ARIA and make websites less accessible instead.

Try to avoid these five most common ARIA mistakes:

  1. Don’t unnecessarily use aria-label. Built-in HTML semantics are always better.
  2. Don’t create your own aria attribute. Only use the ones defined by ARIA.
  3. Use aria-labelledby with an id when you have content that wraps divs and you want to group sections.
  4. Use aria-describedby when you have sections that need more descriptions.
  5. Do not use a child ARIA without a predefined parent ARIA.

ARIA was created to make websites more accessible to people with disabilities. If we avoid common mistakes, we will make sure our websites are accessible.