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WCAG 3.1.4: Abbreviations (LOL)


If your site contains abbreviations, it's recommended that you provide a way for users to access their expanded forms. Similar to our previous post on unusual words, this will help those who have trouble with comprehension or construing meaning from context. It's also a useful practice for people with limited memory, as well as for anyone relying on a screen magnifier. 

But Why, Though?

Abbreviations can be useful or necessary but they also open the door for misunderstandings, especially for online users who rely on assistive technologies. Here are a few reasons why WCAG recommends providing a mechanism on your site for seeing the expanded forms of any abbreviations:

  • Many abbreviations look unusual as words and can't be pronounced according to normal rules of language (WCAG, for example). This proves especially problematic for anyone using a screen reader.
  • A number of abbreviations can signify different things in different contexts (for instance, "Dr." as "Doctor" versus "Dr." as "Drive").
  • Some acronyms, by design, spell out common words, but they can have drastically different meanings.
  • Some acronyms are pronounced similarly to other, real words.

What To Do

There are a few ways you can provide users with the means to see the expanded version of an abbreviation. As we discussed in our previous post, you can link the abbreviation in question to a glossary, or you can link it internally to a definition listed at the bottom of the page. You can also use the "abbr" element in HTML to expand or define abbreviations. Here's an example of what that might look like:

<p><abbr title="National Aeronautics and Space Administration">NASA</abbr> was established in 1958...</p>

Another really easy solution is to provide a parenthetical explanation after the term. As in, "NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was established in 1958…". You only need to provide a definition for the first occurrence of a given abbreviation, so this method wouldn't cause the text on your page to be clunky and awkward.