Instructions don’t rely solely on sensory characteristics.

Introduction

“Sensory characteristics” is an important but complicated-sounding phrase in web accessibility. It’s actually far less complicated than it sounds. The sensory characteristics of components are things like shapes, sounds, positioning, orientation, sound, colour and size.

You’ll often come across sensory characteristics in instructions to users. Saying things like “Use the search bar on the right” isn’t helpful to a user who doesn’t understand what ‘right’ is and “Click the green button” doesn’t help users who can’t see green.

How to Pass

Getting sensory characteristics right is mainly a case of using your common sense. There are no technical requirements, just good and sensible copywriting:

  • Use text labels to elements in addition to sensory characteristics
  • Don’t user instructions that only use sensory characteristics
  • Avoid instructions that rely on sound

Tips

Creating accessible instructions is great for everyone. The clearer your instructions are, the more likely users will follow them.

Good instruction will use several sensory characteristics. Consider the accessibility of these examples:

  1. ‘Use the search box’
  2. ‘Use the search box on the right’
  3. ‘Search by using the green rectangular box labelled ‘Search’ at the top right of the page’

The first two won’t pass, they don’t give users enough sensory information. The third uses text labelling to help the user.

We often have an aversion to adding words, feeling that they can confuse users. In this case, the opposite is true. When you need instructions, make them count.

Avoid sound for instructions. It’s always hard to tell what the sound means and what a user did to make it happen. A prime example is if you use sounds to alert users to errors on a form. The user can’t tell exactly what made the error, they can’t even be sure the sound indicated an error. Use visual cues instead such as colour and symbols.

By making sure you don’t rely solely on colour in your instructions, you can work towards Guideline 1.4.1.

See Also

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About Author

I'm Luke, I started Wuhcag in 2012 to help people like you get to grips with web accessibility. Check out my book, 'How to Meet the WCAG 2.0'.