Notes from the a11y underground #1

Patrick's head poking out from a hole in the ceiling

Warning: Patrick looms large in various discussions

I have been meaning to start a periodic noting of meaty articles and threads related to subjects close to my technical heart. Today intent meets action. Here’s a few that have tickled my fancy of late:

That’s almost it for #1, but first a question: feel free to provide your answer as a comment on this article.

See the Pen
heading level WCAG conformance question
by steve faulkner (@stevef)
on CodePen.

Categories: Development

About Steve Faulkner

Steve is the Chief Accessibility Officer at TPGi. He joined TPGi in 2006 and was previously a Senior Web Accessibility Consultant at vision australia. Steve is a member of several groups, including the W3C Web Platforms Working Group and the W3C ARIA Working Group. He is an editor of several specifications at the W3C including ARIA in HTML and HTML Accessibility API Mappings 1.0. He also develops and maintains HTML5accessibility and the JAWS bug tracker/standards support.


Joe Humbert says:

This one? heading level 1 some text heading level 4 Joe: not a failure, but not a recommended practice Or this one? BIG Heading subtitle for BIG heading Failure against WCAG 1.3.1 A under F43: Failure of Success Criterion 1.3.1 due to using structural markup in a way that does not represent relationships in the content (

Marcus Morba says:

Both fail. After


should follow.

Jared Smith says:

Your heading question is an interesting one – and one that certainly deserves more discussion and clarity.

In my opinion, #1 is not a failure of WCAG, except at Level AAA under 2.4.10. Many will indicate this as being a 1.3.1 failure, but the W3C does not have a defined failure for improperly-leveled headings under 1.3.1. Additionally, the impact on users is typically quite minimal (though can easily increase if present numerous times on one page). As such, I do not consider it a 1.3.1 failure, even though proper heading structures are certainly best practice.

2 is a bit trickier. As above, this would be a 2.4.10 failure, but one likely could not consider it a 1.3.1 failure simply because of the incorrect heading-level usage. One could, however, possibly consider it a 1.3.1 failure if they believe the sub-heading to not really be a distinct heading at all.

electronicwoft says:

so, are you going to tell us? I can’t stand the suspense …


It really is a matter of hierarchical intent. #1 is not a failure but does not follow best practices: H4 can follow H1 without H2. It is not best practice for sure and it is likely someone manipulating heading styles to display text size in a way that is pleasing to their visual preference. #2 However would be a failure. If, in fact, the H5 is the first piece of text on the page, you are basically hiding information from the user through the initial use of the H5 before the H1. Again, hierarchy is, in essence, navigation. If you are using shortcut keys to navigate through heading levels, you will simply not hear the H5. In addition, most automated checkers will fail this as well.