[Athen] [EXT] Question about headings

Katherine Deibel kndeibel at metageekery.org
Tue Jan 18 11:54:26 PST 2022

Well, a few things here.

First, keep in mind that WCAG was explicitly designed for web pages. Due to technical legacy of Tim Berners-Lee not including a visible title tag in the <body>, people co-opted the H1 heading to be titles. That led to the nonsense that is currently the only one H1 per web page and the loss of heading semantics in HTML. Although document accessibility is connected to WCAG, I do find that it doesn't necessarily fully map. We should be making the rational choices on what is best for our clients moreso than strict conformance to WCAG.

With that in mind, conformance to WCAG regarding headings is pretty loose. That TPGi article is pretty infamous. Having worked in academic accessibility, my patrons generally wanted sensible, proper headings, especially if they came academic articles with standard layouts. Moreover, the claim that users expect a single H1 has nothing to do with semantics but just decades of bad practice.

As for the organization chart instance, I'm not certain that I would use headings for that markup. I'd have to see an example of it that would be deemed usable to question it.

But just a few other things:

* First, any of you who said you can have more than one H1 in a PDF since it is not a web page are people who I love! I've been fighting hard lately that headings should be used with current semantics. Titles are not headings, not even if it is a chapter title. Over-generalizing the semantics breaks down super fast. Moreover, if the issue is that most assistive technologies don't report the Title markup in Word or PDFs, the problem is with the AT. Fix them instead of kludging the semantics.

* Regarding headings in footers, I lost the context of that, but if it is a webpage, I recommend always having a H2 that marks up the page footer even if it said H2 is screen reader only in the CSS. While it is true that screen reader users can navigate by landmarks, not all users do. If you were not referring to a web page but a document, I'm a little confused about how headings could occur in a footer but I'd be happy to take a look.

Katherine "Kate" Deibel, PhD
Library Accessibility Specialist
Twitter: https://twitter.com/metageeky
GitHub: https://github.com/metageeky

From: athen-list <athen-list-bounces at mailman12.u.washington.edu> On Behalf Of Swanson,Allison
Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2022 2:28 PM
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network <athen-list at u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: [Athen] [EXT] Question about headings

Thank you all for your input. I was sure that was what I had heard and understood throughout the years. I just wanted to make sure I'm not teaching the wrong thing!
The web developer I'm debating with is citing some discussions where it was determined that there are cases where sequential headings would actually not make sense: TPGi: When do headings fail WCAG?<https://nam10.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tpgi.com%2Fheading-off-confusion-when-do-headings-fail-wcag%2F&data=04%7C01%7CAllison.R.Swanson%40colostate.edu%7C28ea536a765d447a0bdc08d9d7b69d47%7Cafb58802ff7a4bb1ab21367ff2ecfc8b%7C0%7C0%7C637778001597069113%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000&sdata=7tfQQKndcNW55U%2FXPSJpA4wzbzQDgrRDK2tZZMmEN60%3D&reserved=0>
An example the developer gave me was an organization chart where headings are used to depict organization hierarchy: h1 = President, h2 = VP, h3 = AVP, h4 = Executive Director, h5 = Director.

"In that structural hierarchy, there may be divisions/departments that don't have an AVP, or Executive Director, or potentially other levels. In those cases, it would not make sense visually, or structurally to elevate people from lower levels to conform to a specific document structure."

I can see where this is a case where skipping heading levels would actually make sense. Does anyone have thoughts on that?

I think for most ordinary web content, however, it's still going to be best practice to keep headings sequential.


Allison Swanson
[Assistive Technology Resource Center Colorado State University]

From: athen-list <athen-list-bounces at mailman12.u.washington.edu<mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman12.u.washington.edu>> On Behalf Of Robert Beach
Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2022 11:45 AM
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network <athen-list at u.washington.edu<mailto:athen-list at u.washington.edu>>
Subject: Re: [Athen] [EXT] Question about headings

** Caution: EXTERNAL Sender **
Keep a logical flow in order to keep from confusing the end user. Headings should follow the same flow as an outline.

Robert Lee Beach
Assistive Technology Specialist - Student Accessibility & Support Services

Kansas City Kansas Community College
7250 State Ave. - Suite # 3384 - Kansas City, KS 66112
O 913-288-7671 | F 913-288-7678
rbeach at kckcc.edu<mailto:rbeach at kckcc.edu>

From: athen-list <athen-list-bounces at mailman12.u.washington.edu<mailto:athen-list-bounces at mailman12.u.washington.edu>> On Behalf Of Swanson,Allison
Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2022 11:51 AM
To: 'ATHENS ' <athen-list at u.washington.edu<mailto:athen-list at u.washington.edu>>
Subject: [EXT][Athen] Question about headings

CAUTION: This email originated outside KCKCC. Do not click links or open attachments unless you know the content is safe. Please forward all suspicious emails to support at kckcc.edu<mailto:support at kckcc.edu>.
Hello All,

We're having some debate on our campus about whether it's ok to skip heading levels or not. I've always understood that it was best not to, but WCAG doesn't explicitly state this. What is the consensus from actual screen reader users?


Allison Swanson
AT-IT Coordinator & Accessibility Facilitator
308 Occupational Therapy Building
allison.r.swanson at colostate.edu<mailto:allison.r.swanson at colostate.edu>

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