Rules for form labels

As some of you may be aware, WebAIM is continuing development on the
WAVE accessibility validator that Len Kasday started while at Temple
University. A development/alpha version is currently available at

I have run across a few situations that are ambiguous to me, and would
like some recommendations on how to handle them within the accessibility
validator. I'm sure these topics have been discussed before, and I know
that you are dealing with other issues at the moment, so I hope my
inquiry is not too much of a bother.

Situation 1:

An input tag has a label tag whose only content is an image with alt
text. Is this "legal"? (see for an
example--the site search form). I have always been under the impression
that labels have to be in a text format, and that images are not true
labels. Any thoughts on this?

Situation 2:

A submit button has alt text AND a label tag wrapped around it. It has
been my opinion that submit buttons do not need labels. (see
and as examples--the search features on both of these sites)

Situation 3:

A text input has a submit button that visually serves as the label,
because the name of the submit button explains what the text input will
do. I have been told that this is disorienting to some screen reader
users, and that they prefer to have a true label before the text input.
(see for an example--bottom of page--the search
feature. In this case, a title attribute was added to the text input tag
AND it was wrapped in a fieldset tag. Thus there are several pieces of
text acting as labels, but there is still no label tag. Is this

Situation 4:

One label is intended for multiple text input tags, for example when
there are separate inputs for area code, city code, and number with
respect to phone numbers. There are several possible methods for dealing
with this, including:
* wrapping them all in the same label tag
* providing each one with an individual label
* providing each one with a title
* providing each one with an individual label which encloses an
invisible .gif image with appropriate alt text.
Which of these solutions (or other solutions) is considered appropriate,
and which ones should be flagged as errors? 

I have my own opinions, but I'm interested to know yours.

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University 

Received on Wednesday, 11 December 2002 18:13:04 UTC