Spotlight 32

Sensory characteristics

(WCAG 1.3.3)

Have you ever tried following instructions that felt like they were written in a language you couldn't understand? 

Now, imagine if those instructions were “hidden” in shapes, colours, or visual orientations that you couldn't perceive. This can be a daily challenge for learners who are blind, colour-blind or have low vision. Besides, if you "hide" important cues in sound only, you can also make information inaccessible to people with hearing impairments or without sound turned on. 

In Spotlight 13: Complementing Colours, we already talked about how you need to use more than just colours as visual cues. In this spotlight, we look at a criterion that goes beyond colours for supplementing information.

What the criterion says

According to WCAG 1.3.3 Sensory Characteristic (A), all learners, including those with disabilities, should be able to understand instructions for online content, even when they cannot perceive visual cues like shape, colour, size, visual location, or auditory cues like sound. The best practice is to include a secondary indicator and include more than one way to convey the meaning.

Here are some examples  of what you should avoid and how to make them more accessible:

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Don't just refer to items by their location. Those who cannot see the screen may not be able to see it. Instead of saying "icon at the top left", say "menu icon". You can be more specific and say "menu icon at the top left".

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Don't just refer to items by their colour. It may cause problems for those who cannot see or distinguish between colours. Instead of saying "pink button", give the name of the button, for example: "Submit button".

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Don't just refer to items by their shape. Those who cannot see the screen or don't understand shapes in English may have trouble with it. Instead of saying "triangles", be more specific. For example, say "the first 3 items".

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When using meaningful sounds, add on-screen cues too. People with hearing impairments might miss important information if you don't. Instead of just using a beep sound to indicate an error, have some visual indication (like an error icon) appear on the screen. 


Discussion questions:

Get Involved: Come to the LCA Spotlight LinkedIn group and join the conversation.

When you post in the community, use the hashtag #LCASpotlightSensoryCharacteristics

Spotlight 31: New WCAG criteria

Spotlight 33:  Adaptivity