3. Understandable

3.1 Readable (Level AA and AAA)

Success Criterion 3.1.2 Language of Parts

Level AA

The human language of each passage or phrase in the content can be programmatically determined, except for proper names, technical terms, words of indeterminate language, and words or phrases that have become part of the vernacular of the immediately surrounding text.

Language of Parts Explained

SC 3.1.1 requires you to specify the language of each page. Some pages, however, are written mostly in one language and contain words or phrases in a second language. In these cases, SC 3.1.2 requires you to specify the language of those words and phrases. For example:

  • In an English-language novel, a character always speaks French:
    Where were you Tuesday evening?” he asked.
    Je ne comprends pas,” she responded.
  • A web page includes links to translations of the same page:
    This recipe is also available in français, Deutsch, and 中文.

By following SC 3.1.2, browsers display the appropriate alphabet for these passages, and screen readers pronounce them correctly.

Exceptions: There is no need to specify language changes for the following:

  1. Proper names such as Sophia Loren, Olof Palme, and Yma Sumac.
  2. Technical terms such as Homo sapien, Alpha Centauri, and habeas corpus.
  3. Words or phrases that have become part of another language, such as words that English has borrowed from French: rendezvous, RSVP, laissez-faire, and so on.
  4. Words or phrases where the language cannot be determined.

Similar to how language of a page is defined by adding the lang attribute to the opening tag, the language of parts is defined by adding the lang attribute to the HTML element containing language that is not the primary language of the page. In the example below, the French language embedded in otherwise English text is defined as French by adding lang="fr" to a tag enclosing the French text.

Defining language of parts by adding the lang attribute to HTML elements containing language other than the language of the page, like the following:

<span lang="fr">Je ne comprends pas</span>

Key Point: Of the screen readers you have been introduced to so far, only JAWS supports language of parts. It will read French, for instance, with French pronunciation in an otherwise English web page. NVDA and ChromeVox will read French with English pronunciation.

Key Point: Though there is significant variation in support for accessibility standards across the common screen readers (and browsers), developers should still implement accessibility features as they are described in the standards (e.g., WCAG). Implementation in assistive technologies often occur when there is sufficient adoption of standards. For example, language of parts is more likely to be supported in assistive technologies if the HTML lang attribute is being broadly used in web content where changes in language occur.

Suggested Reading:

Success Criterion 3.1.3 Unusual Words

Level AAA

A mechanism is available for identifying specific definitions of words or phrases used in an unusual or restricted way, including idioms and jargon.

Unusual Words Explained

“Unusual words” are words or phrases that readers are unlikely to understand from context alone. This includes:

  1. Idioms: Phrases whose meaning cannot be inferred from the meaning of the individual words that make up the phrase, such as spill the beans, turn the tables, and eat crow.
  2. Jargon: Specialized terms used by people in particular fields, such as charm (physics), bug (computer programming), and ideological hegemony (cultural studies).

There are many ways to meet SC 3.1.3. For example:

  • Follow the first occurrence of each unusual word with its definition
  • Use definition lists
  • Make a glossary that includes unusual words
  • Link unusual words to definitions at the bottom of the page

Content that meets SC 3.1.3 benefits:

  • Non-specialists who need to understand specialized information
  • Students who are learning about a new or unfamiliar subject
  • Second-language learners
  • People whose disabilities make it difficult to understand idioms and jargon
  • People who use screen magnification software — enlarging the text can cause a loss of context
  • People who use handheld web devices with small screens — a small screen may cause loss of context

Suggested Reading:

Success Criterion 3.1.4 Abbreviations

Level AAA

A mechanism for identifying the expanded form or meaning of abbreviations is available.

Abbreviations Explained

Abbreviations and acronyms are convenient for people who know them but confusing for people who don’t.

  • Abbreviations may have no obvious connection to the words they represent. Switzerland is abbreviated as “CH,” which is Latin for “Confoederatio Helvetica.”
  • Some abbreviations cannot be pronounced according to the rules of the language. “DK” (for Denmark) and “rm” (for room) are not English words or phonemes. Readers must know “or be able to guess” the abbreviations to pronounce them correctly.
  • An acronym and a word may have the same spelling but different meanings. For example, “RIP” is an acronym for “rest in peace” and is a word meaning “slash.”
  • Some acronyms sound like common words but are spelled differently. The acronym for Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language is SMIL and is pronounced “smile.”
  • Some acronyms are pronounced differently than they appear. The acronym for American Automobile Association is “AAA” and is sometimes pronounced “triple A.”

Examples of ways to reduce the confusion that abbreviations may cause:

  • Provide the expansion or explanation after the first occurrence of the abbreviation
  • Link to its definition
  • Provide definitions using the html abbr and acronym elements
  • Include a glossary
  • Link to a glossary
  • Provide a function to search an online dictionary

Content that meets SC 3.1.4 benefits:

  • Non-specialists who are not familiar with abbreviations and acronyms that specialists use
  • People who are encountering abbreviations and acronyms for the first time
  • Second-language learners
  • People who have difficulties remembering
  • People who rely on screen magnification software (enlarging the text can cause a loss of context)

Suggested Reading:

Success Criterion 3.1.5 Reading Level

Level AAA

When text requires reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level after removal of proper names and titles, supplemental content, or a version that does not require reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level, is available.

Reading Level Explained

Clear and simple writing benefits everybody. There are people with reading disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) who are highly educated and possess specialized knowledge. It may be possible to accommodate some of these individuals by making text more readable.

Ways to make text more readable include:

  • Simplify the writing. For example, express one idea in each paragraph, replace long or unfamiliar words with more common ones, and use the active voice.
  • Provide a text summary that requires less advanced reading ability.
  • Illustrate complex ideas with drawings, photographs, maps, symbols, and other resources.

SC 3.1.5 acknowledges that difficult and complex writing is appropriate for certain audiences. The comprehensibility of these texts can be improved by adding content that aids understanding, such as a summary or a chart.

Suggested Reading:

Success Criterion 3.1.6 Pronunciation

Level AAA

A mechanism is available for identifying specific pronunciation of words where meaning of the words, in context, is ambiguous without knowing the pronunciation.

Pronunciation Explained

If the pronunciation of a word is crucial to understanding a passage, indicate how the word should be pronounced.

SC 3.1.6 rarely applies to documents in English and French, where the meaning of words can usually be determined from context. Pronunciation issues are more likely to arise in documents written in other languages, such as Japanese.

A common example in English content, particularly in accessibility resources such as this one, is WCAG (i.e., wuh-kag).

Suggested Reading:


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Introduction to Web Accessibility Copyright © 2019 by The Chang School, Toronto Metropolitan University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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