Sensory Characteristics
Success Criterion 1.3.3 (Level A)


Are you avoiding using sensory language or sounds as the only way to describe controls or provide directions on how to operate your site or application?

Why is this important

Some users with disabilities are not able to perceive shape, size, color, position, orientation, or sound due to the nature of the assistive technologies they use. Therefore, when these types of sensory languages are the sole method used to describe controls or provide instructions, these users may not be able to locate controls or understand the instructions being provided.

Whom does it benefit?

Example 1:

As a person who is blind,
I want my screen reader to announce the purpose of the square button on the assignment page,
so that I I know what the directions “Click the square button to submit your assignment.” means, and I can identify and use that button.

Example 2:

As a person who has a severe hearing impairment,
I want to be made aware of warning beeps when I’ve selected a wrong answer in practice quizzes
so that I can try again to select the correct answer before continuing to the next question.

What should you do?

  • Do not use visual cues (color, size, position, etc.) as the sole means to convey meaning and information for understanding and operating content.
  • If audio is used for instructions or notifications, provide a secondary means to alert the user of the instruction or notification.

Note: This guideline is not intended to discourage the use of sensory characteristics. These descriptors can be very helpful to many users, but should not be the sole method for describing controls or operational instructions.

How do you do it?

  • Avoid describing controls or giving instructions solely by references to visual or audible cues; i.e. instructions indicating “click on the green button to submit your response,” “click on the red box to delete the selected item,” or “test will start when bell chimes”.
  • Use labels for all controls and links, and refer to these labels in all control descriptions and operational instructions.
  • When possible, include additional textual information that provides clues on the location of controls other than spatial orientation.
    • For example, instructions for a Web page providing on-line training state, "Use the list of links to the right with the heading, 'Class Listing' to navigate to the desired on-line course."
  • Add alternative text to images and operational icons.
  • Supplement sound alerts, with visual alerts such as text, color, and icons.

Note: Refer to Success Criterion 1.4.1 for detailed guidance specific to use of color.

Need technical guidance?

Additional Resources to help you: