WCAG 2.1 – What is Identify Input Purpose?

In order to help understand the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, we’ve created this series of blog posts that we hope will explain the purpose of the new additions.

Continuing with this series, in this post we’re looking at criterion 1.3.5 – Identify Input Purpose.

An example of autocomplete in action

Forms provide a useful function on websites and autocomplete eases their entry.

Forms and fields

Forms are a useful part of websites as they allow a company to collect data on behalf of the user. Of course, this has to be done securely but we can also find that user error means that forms may be inputted incorrectly.

With a large or complex form there could be many fields and this could increase the likelihood of an error. Additionally, a screen reader user needs to know the purpose of a field and how to complete a form correctly.

Users with motor or cognitive disabilities may also struggle with forms due to their complex nature. They may not have the level of dexterity or a good level of reading and may require additional assistance or tools to be able to fill out a form.

In order to help users and content providers, WCAG 2.1 not only requires that forms are clear and perceivable, but also that the purpose of a form can be understood.

1.3.5 – Identify Input Purpose

The success criterion for Identify Input Purpose states:

The purpose of each input field collecting information about the user can be programmatically determined when:

Specific types of field require specific types of information. For example, an email address must contain a username, the @ symbol and a domain (e.g. Gmail.com). Without these, an email cannot be sent. Likewise, if letters appear in a phone number field, this is obviously incorrect.

To overcome this problem, web page authors can programmatically associate fields so that browsers, screen readers and other technologies know what type of data needs to be added into a specific field. For example, they can add type=”email” to a field and the assistive technology will know that an email format must be entered into the field.

Autocomplete helps everyone

The autocomplete feature helps users by allowing data to be filled into the correct field and then checked by the user before submission. A form field that has programmatically associated fields will allow a browser to use the autocomplete feature for a whole array of different types of information, including personal details, credit card details or other information that is used regularly.

This is helpful to everyone, but can be especially helpful for those with cognitive disabilities, including those with a very limited amount of reading ability. Some users with a cognitive disability will use technologies that allow the use of symbols instead of text as part of their autocomplete process. For example, they may use an icon of a cake, representing their date of birth, or an icon of a family to represent their surname. When selecting the icon, the text is filled into the correct field.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have produced a list of the inputs that can be programmed into the code of a form field. These include general information such as a person’s first name, but also include specific financial inputs such as “cc-exp” for a Credit Card’s expiry date.

This means that a larger number of forms can be completed by users with assistive technology needs, but able bodied users benefit too. As long as it remains secure, having the auto complete feature enabled can speed up the process and take the hassle out of purchasing goods and services.


Forms are an important part of a website but sometimes can be long and complicated. Many users need additional help and tools to be able to complete a form quickly and correctly, and making sure that form fields are programmatically determined can help a form to be filled in without errors.

The autocomplete features in particular are useful for everyone, and having forms set up correctly helps everyone. Whether a user is signing up to a newsletter or buying a good or service, all users benefit from having a form with autocomplete and type attributes.

Do your forms have autocomplete?

It is likely that your website has forms, even if it is to gather email addresses for a newsletter. It’s important to make sure that all forms have been set up correctly, so that all users can interact with the forms and minimise errors on their completion.

Dig Inclusion are on hand to help you with your forms and to make sure that they can be used by all your users. Feel free to contact Dig Inclusion to talk about this further.