Provide a way to expand abbreviations

Examples of the acronyms LOL, LMAO, and ROFL being expanded
Image description: Black text on a white background. On the left are acronyms and on the right, their definitions. The text reads, "LOL: laugh out loud. LMAO: laughing my ass off. ROFL: rolling on the floor laughing."

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Why This is Important

Explaining what abbreviations stand for is accessible to people with cognitive, reading, and memory-related disabilities.

Blind and visually impaired people use screen readers to interact with websites and apps. A screen reader is a type of assistive tech that converts things on screen to audio and/or braille. It's important that things are understandable and interactive to screen readers.

Keyboard accessibility is essential for people who do not use a computer mouse (which might be because they have unpredictable or very specific movement due to a motor disability). Many Blind and visually impaired people also use keyboard interactions in order to use their screen reader.

Error support is accessible to people with a diversity of disabilities. A cognitive disability might affect how a person perceives and understands things. A physical disability might lead to unpredictable movement. Other factors such as environment, stress, and multi-tasking may also lead to errors.

In order to be accessible, gestures and interactions must account for people with physical and motor disabilities, who might have unpredictable or very specific movement.

Abbreviations and acronyms are often context-dependent and can be easily misunderstood. Without a shared understanding of what they mean, this is confusing to people who might have trouble remembering or recalling.

This references WCAG criterion 3.1.4 Abbreviations (Level AAA).

Level AAA compliance is considered more difficult to meet because it requires more resources to fulfill. It also might encompass conflicting access needs (meaning what is accessible to some might be inaccessible to others). Use your best judgment of your target audience and your team's capabilities to determine if this is a pragmatic goal to reach.

How to Implement This

In general, if you are developing a name for something, consider the cognitive effort it takes for people to remember and recall acronyms. If possible, try to avoid creating more acronyms and abbreviations.

There are a few different ways to expand abbreviations. You can expand the abbreviation inline, link the abbreviation to a glossary page, or use the HTML abbreviation tag.

Expand the abbreviation inline

For example:

Today we’re going to host an AMA (Ask Me Anything).

Link the abbreviation to a glossary page

For example:

Today we’re going to host an <a href=””>AMA</a>

For the reader's convenience, you can also link the abbreviation to footnotes at the bottom of the page using in-page linking.

For example:

Today we’re going to host an <a href=”#ama”>AMA</a>
<div id=”ama”>AMA = Ask Me Anything</div>

The HTML Abbreviation Tag

While you could use the HTML abbreviation tag, this might not be the best solution. According to PowerMapper, the abbreviation tag causes numerous issues with different screen readers and browsers. This also makes the abbreviation expansion only available to screen reader users, even though many people could benefit from them.

How to Test This

Manual Test
Semi-Automated Test
Automated Test
  • Read through the content and make note of any acronyms or abbreviations
  • Check that they are defined somehow, such as with inline definitions or a glossary


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