Form <input> elements must have labels

Rule ID: label
Ruleset: axe-core 3.1
User Impact: Critical
WCAG: 1.3.1, 3.3.2

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Compliance Data & Impact

User Impact

Disabilities Affected

  • Blindness
  • Low Vision
  • Deafblindness
  • Mobility/Dexterity

Requirement(s)

  • WCAG 2.1 (A): MUST
  • WCAG 2.0 (A): MUST
  • Section 508: MUST

WCAG Success Criteria

  • 1.3.1 Info and Relationships
  • 3.3.2 Labels or Instructions

Section 508 Guidelines

  • 1194.22 (n) Information required to complete electronic forms online

How to Fix the Problem

Programmatically associate labels to all form controls and ensure there are no duplicate labels. You can do so by using an implicit label element and explicit label, aria-label, or aria-labelledby attribute values.

Form elements that should have labels

  • Text entry fields, e.g. <input type="text">, <input type="password"> and <textarea>
  • Radio buttons, <input type="radio">
  • Checkboxes, <input type="checkbox">
  • Select menus, <select>

The only exceptions for this requirement are:

  • Buttons — buttons are self-labeling
  • Hidden inputs — Inputs with the type attribute value of hidden (e.g., type="hidden"). These inputs are hidden and unavailable for user input. They therefore need no label.

When adding labels, be sure to avoid the following:

First name: <input type="text" name="fname">

This markup renders to produce a textbox with the words "First name:" next to it. Sighted users have no problem associating the text with the input field. Nevertheless, this connection is not as clear for non-sighted users, especially as forms grow longer and more complex. This ambiguity can make errors more likely, especially when the information required is more complex than a first name.

To fix the above example, you should create an association between the label text (i.e., "First name:" and the input field. Best practice is to add an explicit, rather than implicit association. All modern browsers and major assistive technologies support explicit labeling for all form elements. Explicit labels also have the added benefit of making the clickable area on a form element larger, making it easier for all users, though particularly those with motor disabilities, to click on relatively small form elements.

Methods for adding labels

  • Create a label element wrapped around the input field. This creates an implicit, rather than explicit, association between the label and the input field.
  • Associate the label element with the input field using the for attribute whose value is the ID attribute of the input. This creates an explicit, rather than implicit, association between the label and the input field.
  • Use an aria-label attribute value.
  • Use aria-labelledby attribute value.

For detailed instructions on how to implement these various labelling methods, see the Automated Checks that run as a part of this rule.

Finally, ensure that each input element has only one label. Note that if any of your input elements have help text, be sure this text differs from the label element text.

Why this is Important

Effective form labels are required to make forms accessible. The purpose of form elements such as checkboxes, radio buttons, input fields, etcetera, is often apparent to sighted users, even if the form element is not programmatically labeled. Screen readers users require useful form labels to identify form fields. Adding a label to all form elements eliminates ambiguity and contributes to a more accessible product.

When labels for form elements are absent, screen reader users do not know the input data expectations. Screen readers cannot programmatically determine information about input objects without an established label relationship (or redundant text serving as a label).

The absence of labels prevent fields from receiving focus when read by screen readers, and users with impaired motor control do not get the benefit of a larger clickable area for the control since clicking the label activates the control.

Rule Description

Each form element must have a programmatically associated label element.

The Algorithm (in simple terms)

Ensures that every form element has a programmatically associated label.

Resources

Refer to the complete list of axe 3.1 rules.