Writing accessible documentation

We write our developer documentation with accessibility in mind. This page is not an exhaustive reference, but describes some general guidelines and examples that illustrate best practices to follow. The World Health Organization estimates that 15% of the world's population (more than 1 billion people) have an accessibility need. When documentation is written with accessibility in mind, it improves the overall experience for all readers.

General dos and don'ts

  • Don't use ableist language. Avoid bias and harm when discussing disability and accessibility. For more information, see Writing inclusive documentation.
  • Ensure that readers can reach all parts of the document (including tabs, form-submission buttons, and interactive elements) by using only a keyboard, without a mouse or trackpad.
  • Use a screen reader to test your documentation. This test can help you find accessibility issues in your content and is a good way to self-edit your content. To try out a screen reader, see List of screen readers.
  • In HTML, use semantic tagging. For example, use the <em> element only to indicate emphasis, not to indicate italics.
  • In HTML, prefer native elements over custom styles.
  • Avoid unnecessary font formatting. (Screen readers explicitly describe text modifications.)
  • If you're documenting a product that includes specialized accessibility features, then explicitly document those features. For example, the gcloud command-line tool includes togglable accessibility features such as percentage progress bars and ASCII box rendering.
  • Don't force line breaks (hard returns) within sentences and paragraphs. Line breaks might not work well in resized windows or with enlarged text.
  • Avoid when possible camel case and all caps. Some screen readers read capitalized letters individually, and some languages are unicase. Follow capitalization guidelines.
  • Depending on the screen reader (or personal settings), not all punctuation marks are read. Make sure that the same meaning is conveyed to the reader without punctuation marks. For that reason, avoid when possible the use of exclamation marks, question marks, and semicolons.
  • Don't use & instead of and in headings, text, navigation, or tables of contents. However, it's OK to use & when referencing UI elements that use &, or in table headings and diagram labels where space constraints require abbreviation. Of course, it's fine to use & for technical purposes in code.

Reading ease

  • Break up walls of text to aid in scannability. For example, separate paragraphs, create headings, and use lists.
  • Use shorter sentences. Try to use fewer than 26 words per sentence.
  • Define acronyms and abbreviations on first usage and if they're used infrequently.
  • Use parallel writing structures for similar things. For example, start each list in the same format.
  • Place distinguishing and important information of a paragraph in the first sentence to aid in scannability.
  • Use clear and direct language. Avoid the use of double negatives and exceptions for exceptions.

    Recommended: You can continue without a path.

    Not recommended: A missing path won't prevent you from continuing.

Headings and titles

Use descriptive headings and titles because they help a user navigate their browser and the page. It's easier to jump between pages and sections of a page if the headings and titles are unique.

  • Use a heading hierarchy.
  • Don't skip levels of the heading hierarchy. For example, put an <h3> only under an <h2>.
  • To change the visual formatting of a heading, use CSS rather than using a heading level that doesn't fit the hierarchy.
  • Don't have empty headings or headings with no associated content.
  • Tag headings using heading elements. In HTML: <h1>, <h2>, and so on. In Markdown: #, ##, and so on.
  • Use a level-1 heading for the page title or main content heading.

For more information and examples, see Headings and titles.

  • Use meaningful link text. Links should make sense when read out of context.
  • Don't use click here or read this document. Some people who use screen readers jump from link to link to scan a page and need to understand what a link contains.
  • Use an external link icon to indicate that the link goes to a new domain.
  • Don't force links to open in a new tab or window. Let the reader decide how to open links. If you think a link needs to open in a new tab or window, let the reader know that the link is opening differently than expected. For example, if the following link opens in a new tab, the link text should let them know: Linking to other sites (opens in a new tab).
  • Use a standard phrase to clue readers in if you use an in-page link, so they know where the link is sending them. For more information, see Links to sections on the same page.
  • Avoid when possible adjacent links. Instead, put a character in between to separate them.
  • If a link downloads a file, the link text needs to indicate this action as well as the file type.


  • For every image, provide alt text that adequately summarizes the intent of each image.
  • Don't present new information in images; always provide an equivalent text explanation with the image.
  • Don't repeat images unless absolutely necessary.
  • Don't use images of text, code samples, or terminal output. Use actual text.
  • Use SVG instead of PNG if available. SVGs stay sharp when you zoom in on the image.

For more information, see Text associated with images.

Videos, recordings, and GIFs

  • Provide captions, transcripts, or descriptions of audio and video content. For example, you can use the autocaption feature in YouTube.
  • Ensure that captions can be translated into major languages.
  • Don't use flickering or flashing elements. They can cause anything from motion sickness to a seizure.

Buttons and icons

  • For form-submission buttons, use the native HTML <button> element.
  • An icon is a symbol or image that represents an object or a function. For information about using icons, see the Buttons and icons section of the UI elements and interaction page.

UI navigation

When using angle brackets (>) to document menu paths, add an aria-label attribute because some screen readers interpret this symbol as greater than or keyboard arrow right. For more information and examples, see Menu bar.


  • Introduce tables in the text preceding the table because not all screen readers preannounce tables.
  • Use table headings for the first column and the first row only. Use the th element.
  • If your tables include both row and column headings, then mark heading cells with the scope attribute.
  • If your tables have more than one row containing column headings, then use the headers attribute and make sure that the headings have unique IDs.
  • Avoid when possible tables in the middle of a numbered procedure.
  • Don't merge cells. Don't use colspan or rowspan attributes.
  • Don't use tables unless it's the best method to present your information. Tables are challenging for screen readers. For more information, see List or table.

For more information, see Tables.


  • Label every input field by using a <label> element.
  • Place labels outside of fields.
  • When you're creating an error message for form validation, clearly state what went wrong and how to fix it—for example: "Name is a required field."

Custom CSS and JavaScript

Try to use your site's standard styles and standard JavaScript code as much as possible. However, if you do use custom styles or code, then follow these guidelines:

  • Pick colors that respect accessible color contrast ratios (4.5:1 for text).
  • Don't use visibility:hidden or display:none. Both styles hide information from screen readers.
  • Avoid when possible using mouseover events. But if you do use them, then add alternate focus and blur events for keyboard users.
  • Ensure that any ordering and positioning defined in styles reflects the DOM and the reading order (such as left to right and top to bottom) of your page.

Document rendering

Make sure that your document conveys all the information that you intended when you view it in the following contexts:

  • Without sound
  • Using only sound
  • Without color
  • Using a keyboard
  • With screen magnification
  • Without punctuation

Don't use color, size, location, or other visual cues as the primary way of communicating information.

  • If you're using color, icon, or outline thickness to convey state, then also provide a secondary cue, such as a change in the text label.
  • Refer to buttons and other elements by their label (or aria-label, if they're visual elements)—for example:

    Recommended: Click Save.

    Not recommended: Click the round button.

  • Don't use directional language to orient the reader, such as above, below, or right-hand side. This type of language doesn't work well for accessibility or for localization reasons.

    Don't use directional language to refer to a position in a document. Instead, use earlier, preceding, or following.

    Recommended: In the preceding diagram, clients run jobs on multi-team or single-team clusters.

    Not recommended: In the diagram above, clients run jobs on multi-team or single-team clusters.

    If a UI element is hard to find, provide a screenshot.

    Recommended: Click Menu.

    Not recommended: In the left-side panel, click the button with three lines.

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