WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

Creating Accessible Forms
Advanced Form Labeling


The <label> tag has limitations. It cannot provide multiple labels for a single form control or associate a single label with multiple form controls. Sometimes, there is no visible text label to associate with a form control.

The majority of these labeling limitations can be overcome with three ARIA properties:

  • aria-labelledby
  • aria-describedby
  • aria-label


A <label> declares, "I am a label for this form control" by referencing the form control's id attribute value:

<label for="fname">

With aria-labelledby, the form field references the id attribute of the text that acts as its label:

<input aria-labelledby="fnamelabel">

The form control declares, "I am a control labeled by this element."

Handling Multiple Labels

Because the id attribute of each form control must be unique, a <label> can only point to one form control. With aria-labelledby, one element can label multiple form controls, and one form control can be labelled by multiple elements.

The following is a simplified example of a table that might be used for data entry. Each header cell (<th>) functions as a visual label for all form controls in the column below it. The text inputs use aria-labelledby to reference the header cell text.

Name Age Weight

HTML for the first header ("Name"):

<th id="namelabel" scope="col">Name</th>

HTML for the first text input:

<input type="text" name="name1" aria-labelledby="namelabel">

This labels the text input with the "Name" text in the table header cell. This aria-labelledby attribute would be added to all three Name fields, thus properly labeling all of them with one text node.

Building on this example, the table below has visual labels along the top and side—multiple visual labels for each input.

Name Office Number Phone

HTML for the first field:

<input type="text" name="office1" aria-labelledby="cyndi officenum">

The cyndi and officenum values reference the id attribute values of the "Cyndi" and "Office Number" table cells. A screen reader will read "Cyndi Office Number" when navigating into this field. The reading order of multiple labels is based on the order in which these values are specified.


As a general rule, if a single label is present for a single control, the <label> element should be used to reference it. These labels provide additional functionality - clicking on them sets focus to or activates the control. This functionality is not available when using aria-labelledby.


If a control has both <label> and aria-labelledby, screen readers will announce the aria-labelledby text instead of the associated <label>. Screen reader users will never hear the <label> text.


To associate descriptive text with a form control, use aria-describedby. For example:

New password must be 8-15 characters and include letters and numbers.
<label for="resetpass">Reset Password:</label>
<input type="password" id="resetpass" aria-describedby="pwnote"><br>
<span id="pwnote">New password must be 8-15 characters and include letters and numbers.</span>
  • Because there is a single label, <label> is used rather than aria-labelledby.
  • The aria-describedby attribute points to the id of the element containing the password requirements. Screen readers will typically read the label, then read the input type (text box, checkbox, etc., plus any necessary properties, such as if the field is required), and then read the description. Multiple elements can be referenced by aria-describedby. Just separate the referenced id values with spaces.
  • Screen readers announce aria-describedby content in addition to a label (e.g., <label> or <input aria-labelledby>). It is not a substitute for a label—all inputs must have a label.
  • The aria-describedby attribute can also be used to reference descriptions that appear as 'tooltips'. Tooltips must become visible to sighted keyboard users when the control has keyboard focus, not just when the user hovers or clicks with a mouse.

Invisible Labels

Some form controls don't need visible text labels. For example, a text input adjacent to a Search button makes its purpose clear to sighted users. An additional visual text label would be redundant. In such cases, one of the following three techniques should be used:

Hidden <label>

Hide the <label> element off-screen using CSS. The label will not appear visually, but screen readers will still announce it. The CSS ruleset is given in our article on invisible content for screen readers.

<label class="hidden" for="s">Search Terms</label>
<input type="text" id="s">

title attribute

If a form field has a title attribute but no <label>, screen readers will treat the title as a label. This will also generate a tooltip on mouse hover, which could be either helpful or distracting.

<input id="s" type="text" title="Search Terms">


The aria-label attribute can also be used. Like aria-labelledby, aria-label overrides <label>.

<input id="s" type="text" aria-label="Search Terms">

Only one of these recommendations should be implemented. Using two or more together (e.g., a hidden <label> and a duplicate title attribute) can cause information to be repeated by a screen reader.


The placeholder attribute does not take the place of a <label>. One limitiation with placeholder is that it disappears once information has been entered into the field, making it more difficult for users to make corrections. Instead, we recommend the labeling strategies above.

Bad Example

Relies on placeholder.

Your Name:
<input type="text" name="last" placeholder="Last">
<input type="text" name="first" placeholder="First">
<input type="text" name="middle" placeholder="Middle">

Good Example

Replaces placeholder with <label>, and adds autocomplete, which was absent in the bad example.

Your Name:
  Last <input type="text" name="last" autocomplete="family-name">
  First <input type="text" name="first" autocomplete="given-name">
  Middle <input type="text" name="middle" autocomplete="additional-name">


  • Use <label> wherever possible. It has universal browser and screen reader support, and mouse users can click the label to focus its form control.
  • Use aria-labelledby to overcome the 1:1 limitations of <label>.
  • Use aria-describedby (in addition to a label) to associate descriptive text to the form control.
  • Use a hidden <label>, or a title or aria-label attribute when a visible text label is not needed.
  • Placeholder text (e.g., <input type="text" placeholder="Search WebAIM">) is not a substitute for a label.