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Reviewing a design for accessibility

I'm a big believer in shifting left: considering accessibility as early in the process as we can. One way we can do this is by reviewing designs for accessibility. This helps us catch anything we've missed before we start developing it.

What to do: annotate

By adding annotations about the semantics and accessibility of elements on a page we can remove barriers to access. The best way to do annotations might be sticky notes on a printout or adding comments on a Figma file, or something else. The important thing is that we want to be clear and explicit.

Here are a handful of things that I've found give good value / effort balance when reviewing a design for accessibility.

Things to check

Page title

  • Is the page title unique?
  • Does it concisely describe the page content?


  • Are headings used to divide content up in a logical way?
  • Are the levels shown, without skipping any?

Text alternatives

  • Do all images (including icons) have a text alternative (using the alt attribute)? You can see WebAIM's guide to alternative text for more about what this is, and what makes good alternative text.
  • If the image is decorative, is it marked as such (using alt="")? Are we sure it's only decorative?
  • Does each link describe where we'll go when we follow it? Does each button describe what will happen when we use it?
  • Where links or buttons have the same text repeated on a page, do they have a longer accessible name that is unique? For example: "View details of Quarter 1 review" instead of "View details".

Standard controls

  • Do form controls match standard ones (like selects, radio, and checkbox) where possible? If not, is it possible to use a standard control instead?
  • Are standard controls being used to match the design intent?

Names for form elements

  • Do all form controls (one input plus one label) have a name? You can reference MDN's article on the <label> HTML element for an example of how the label and input elements work together with the id and for attributes to provide accessible names.
  • If the name isn't visible, is it shown in an annotation?

Names for groups of form elements

  • Do groups of related forms controls (such as multiple choice questions) have a name? The name should provide context for the individual questions in the group. Reference the W3C's Web Accessibility Tutorial on Grouping Controls for two approaches on how to do this.
  • If the name isn't visible, is it shown in an annotation?

Error messages

  • Are error messages clear and helpful?
  • Does the message say what went wrong and how to fix it?
  • Are we not relying on color alone to show the error state?
  • Are we not referring to sensory characteristics (like shape, size, visual location) in the message?


Reviewing designs for accessibility is a great way to help designers think more accessibly and to help developers implement more accessibly. We can use annotations to be explicit about the semantic and accessibility features we want on each page. We can use checklists to help us make sure we haven't missed any big things.

If you'd like to learn more about how to improve the experience for everyone who uses your site, check out the WCAG checklist here on the A11Y Project.