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Am I understanding aria-relevant="removals" correctly?


From: Robert Fentress
Date: May 28, 2015 2:18PM

Hey, folks.

So, I'll be honest, I've been a bit hazy about the relationship between
aria-relevant and aria-atomic, so I started going through the states and
properties section of the ARIA spec (
http://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria/states_and_properties) in a little more
detail, while testing things out in Deque University's very useful, Live
Region Playground (
and I think I'm starting to get a better handle on it. I'd like to run it
by you, though, to see if I'm right.

Let's work from the Deque's HTML code as a reference, listed below:

<div id="fixture" role="status">
<div id="static">
<h3>Static Content</h3>
<div>The changing content will take place below.</div>
<div id="update"><div><span class="added">Added Content</span>

If, on $('#fixture'), I set aria-atomic="true" and
aria-relevant="removals", then, when I remove the contents of $('#update'),
everything that remains in $('#fixture') will be presented to the user. It
will *not* read the removed content, as one might, at first, think. This
is because aria-relevant determines what *triggers* content in the live
region to be presented, while aria-atomic determines *how much* of the
content in the live region to be presented.

As best I can tell, the value of aria-atomic has exactly the opposite
effect of what you would expect in normal English. One would expect (I
would, anyway) that saying you wanted something to be atomic meant that you
only wanted a part of it, because an atom is a tiny piece of something.
However, setting aria-atomic to true has the opposite effect, meaning that
it presents *everything*. The way I keep it straight in my head now is
that "atomic", in this instance, means an indivisible whole.

So with the example I gave above, the expected behavior seems pretty
clear. However, if I set aria-atomic="false" and aria-relevant="removals"
and then I remove the contents of $('#update'), the spec seems slightly
less clear to me and I'm not entirely sure what would happen. In describing
the aria-atomic property, the spec says, "2. If aria-atomic is explicitly
set to false, assistive technologies will stop searching up the ancestor
chain and present only the changed node to the user." This *probably*
means that nothing is presented to the user, since the changed node,
$('#update'), contains nothing now. Would this also be the case if I
removed the node itself?

Testing this all out in JAWS and NVDA with Internet Explorer and Firefox
suggests that none of these screen reader/browser combinations completely
supports aria-relevant="removals" in the way I'd expect. This makes it
hard to verify that I am interpreting the specification correctly. To
those who've really gotten into the weeds on this, can you confirm that
I've gotten this right or could you provide further clarification?


Robert Fentress
Senior Accessibility Solutions Designer

Technology-enhanced Learning & Online Strategies
Assistive Technologies
1180 Torgersen Hall
620 Drillfield Drive (0434)
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061