Layout tables must not use data table elements

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Rule Description

If a table is being used for layout purposes only, it must not use data table elements such as a header, caption, and summary to prevent confusion by screen reader users who would otherwise expect data to be contained within the cells.

The Algorithm, in Simple Terms

Ensures that presentational <table> elements do not use <th>, <caption> elements or the summary attribute.

Why this is Important

If a table is being used only for layout, it doesn't make sense to add elements that belong only on data tables. Aside from being unnecessary, such elements can confuse users of screen readers, since the assistive technology announces these elements in a particular way. If these elements are present, users might expect a data table and be confused when this is not what the cells contain.

How to Fix the Problem

This rule checks for the presence of a table header, caption, and summary for tables being used for layout purposes only.

To prevent the issue, remove markup that is only relevant for data tables from your layout-only tables. This includes elements such as a header, caption, and summary. If using a table just for visual layout and not for tabular data, use cascading style sheets (CSS) instead.

The rationale is that if a table is being used only for layout, it doesn't make sense to add elements that belong only on data tables. Aside from being unnecessary, such elements can confuse users of screen readers, since the assistive technology announces these elements in a particular way. If these elements are present, users might expect a data table and be confused when this is not what the cells contain.

Compliance Data & User Impact

User Impact: Serious
Disabilities Affected:
  • Blindness
  • Deafblindness
  • Mobility/Dexterity
Issue Type:
  • WCAG 2.0 (A): MUST
WCAG Success Criteria:
  • 1.3.1 Info and Relationships
Section 508 Guidelines:
  • Not applicable

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Other Related Resources

Additional Information

Relevant Technologies:
  • HTML 4
  • HTML 5
Relevant Custom Widget Type(s):
  • Table - Sortable
  • Table - Responsive
Test Reliability: Automated testing is possible, with high accuracy
Rule ID: layout-table