Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Accessible Firefox: Text equivalent computation

Each accessible object may have name and description, a primary characteristic used for perceivability of the control element by the user (also referred as text equivalent). As far as I know only ARIA spec provides an algorithm of text equivalent computation. It might look strange that ARIA specifies an universal algorithm equally applicable to any markup (would it be HTML or anything else) but that's how it is. Other specs either don't address that or like  HTML spec are referred to the ARIA one. Each browser follows that algorithm this or that way.

Algorithm implemented in Firefox isn't 1 to 1 with ARIA's one but it is quite close to the version from ARIA first draft. Basically that version was written from Firefox implementation. ARIA was evaluated, Firefox was evaluated too but not always in sync with ARIA.

I realized that Firefox algorithm isn't documented anywhere so I decided to put it here to not make people read the code if they are curious about Firefox behavior. Note, Firefox might do a slightly different computations on case by case basis. In general these should considered as bugs. However this algorithm is not free from bugs as well. Let me know if you see anything suspicious.


Here is a list of used terms in algorithm description:
initial node
the DOM node the text equivalent is computed for;
current node
the DOM node currently traversed in order to compute the text equivalent for initial node;
text equivalent string
the text equivalent we have computed up until we have arrived at the current node;
string attribute
attribute whose value provides a text equivalent, for example, aria-label in case of name computation;
relation attribute
IDRefs attribute referred to other element(s) used in text equivalent computation, for example, aria-labelledby in case of name computation;
empty on purpose text equivalent
text equivalent left empty on purpose by the author, AT shouldn't try to repair it.


To compute the text equivalent for current node:
  1. Prepend a space if necessary: if the current node is not inline element (refer to CSS display style), append a space character if the text equivalent string is not empty.
  2. Compute the text equivalent for the current node and append it to text equivalent string:
    1. If the node is hidden and it's not a part of computation initiated by relation attribute (in other words, it's not referred by or it's not a child of hidden element referred by relation attribute) then, skip the node. ⤴
    2. If the node is a text node, then append the rendered text content if the node is not hidden, otherwise its append text content. Proceed to the next node. ⤴
    3. Append text equivalent from ARIA markup if any, otherwise append it from native markup:
      1. If text equivalent is provided by string attribute then append its value. If string attribute value is empty and the text equivalent won't be provided later by the algorithm then text equivalent is considered empty on purpose.
      2. If text equivalent is provided by relation attribute, and this node is not already part of text equivalent calculation, then within the relation attribute value, process the IDs in the order they occur and ignore IDs in that are not specified on an element in the document. For each ID's associated element, implement this text equivalent computation starting with step 1, appending the results to the text equivalent string as they are collected.⟲
    4. If the node is not initial node or if it's recursively reentered initial node but it's not the fist or last part of a text equivalent computation then append the current user-managed value of this node.
    5. If the text equivalent for this node is empty, and either the node's role allows "text equivalent from subtree" or the node is not a control and not the initial node, then recursively implement this algorithm for each child, starting with step 1.⟲
    6. If the text equivalent for this node is still empty, get it from tooltip for the current node if any.
  3. Append space if the space was added at step 1.
  4. Normalize whitespace, trimming leading and trailing space and condense other whitespace characters into a single space.

Remarks and examples

Item c.

Text equivalent computation from ARIA and native markup is nicely covered by HTML to a11y spec.

Nevertheless as example of a native markup text equivalent can be alt attribute for HTML <img> or a label from <label for> for control element. However, markup for tooltips is not used as native markup text equivalent, they are used as a last resort under item f.

In general name and description don't dupe each other so that if some markup was used as name then it won't be reused as description. For example,

  <img title="Me and Eiffel Tower">

Name is "Me and Eiffel Tower", description is empty.


  <img alt="I'm in France" title="Me and Eiffel Tower">

Name is "I'm in France", description is "Me and Eiffel Tower".

Item c.i. 

Example of empty on purpose name is <img alt="">.

Item c.ii. 

Example of relation attribute processing:

  <button aria-labelledby="span" id="btn" />
  <button aria-labelledby="btn" id="btn2" /> 
  <span id="span">text</span>  

@id="btn" name is "text", aria-labelledby is processed since we don't have reentrances.
@id="btn2" doesn't have a name, aria-labelledby on @id="btn" is ignored because otherwise it would mean reentrance (@id="btn2" aria-labelledby brought us here).

Note, if the recursion only produces white space then we proceed to the next item of the algorithm. For example

  <span id="span"></span>
  <button aria-labelledby="span">press me</button>

Name of button element is "press me". The rule is also applicable to item e.

Item d.

1. By user-managed value we assume the value of accessible object. In HTML <input> case it's built from value attribute. In case of ARIA that will be aria-valuetext for example.

2. If the current node is initial node then value is not included.

  <div role="slider" aria-valuetext="right in the middle"></div>
Name is empty for ARIA slider.

3. But if the current node is not initial node then value is included.

  <label for="input">
    <div role="slider" aria-valuetext="right in the middle">
  <input id="input" type="checkbox">

Name of the checkbox is "Position right in the middle".

4. If the current node is the initial node and it was reentered then:

a. If the node is in middle of text equivalent computation then its value is included.

     Subscribe to

Name for select is "Subscribe to ATOM feed".

b. If node is not in the middle of text equivalent computation then value is omitted.

  <label>Home page: <input type="text"></label>

Name for input is "Home page:".


  1. Replies
    1. I've been told several years ago I should learn how to write this word, otherwise they said whole Mozilla sources will be misspelled :)

      Thank you for the catch.

    2. That is a testament to your impact on our source :)