Implicit content and screen readers


Information we read on the web appears in certain visual structures. We know a navigation is a navigation just by looking at it. What about people without sight? How would they know if they have focussed a navigation block, or if the number they are hearing is a telephone number?

To help these users we add hidden descriptive texts to the page. We do this by creating a class named implicit. This class will then hide content that can be classified as implicit. Take look at the class definition below.

.implicit {
  position: absolute;
  overflow: hidden;
  clip: rect(0 0 0 0);
  height: 1px;
  width: 1px;
  margin: -1px;
  padding: 0;
  border: 0;

The width and height properties are set to 1px, a value of 0 will cause the content to not be read on some screen readers. It’s positioned absolute so it will not affect page flow. Combined with the other properties this will result in a box that is effectively zero × zero pixels big.

This is how you would use this implicit class in your HTML.

<!-- navigation -->
    <h1 class="implicit">Main Navigation</h1>
        <li><a href="/">Home</a>
        <li><a href="/">About</a>
        <li><a href="/">Contact</a>

<!-- meta data -->
    <dt class="implicit">Phone number</dt>
    <dd><a href="tel:012345678">012 34 56 78</a></dd>
    <dt class="implicit">E-mail address</dt>
    <dd><a href=""></a></dd>

These implicit elements are now hidden but are still read by screen readers. People using assistive technologies now have a little bit of extra context to make it easier to understand the content.

As a bonus, this additional information will also benefit search engines.

Rik Schennink

Web enthusiast