WCAG 2.1 – What is Pointer Gestures?

In our main WCAG 2.1 blog post, we mentioned that one of the main reasons why the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released the latest 2.1 guidelines was because of the introduction of mobile devices and touchscreens.A user interacting with an iPad

Mobile devices have revolutionised the way we interact with a device and the use of fingers to select, move and zoom is now second nature to many of us. We can also find similar interaction on desktops and laptops through the use of a trackpad.

In particular are the introduction of two main types of hand based navigation which are common to many of us: multi-point gestures and path-based gestures.

What are multi-point and path-based gestures?

A multi-point gesture is any interaction with a device that uses two or more points of contact. This includes ‘pinching’ to zoom, three and four finger swipes and ‘split taps’, where one finger rests on the screen while a second finger taps. Using a trackpad or touchscreen instead of the traditional two buttons of a mouse, there are four fingers available that can act as buttons. Multi-point gestures are very useful and have introduced a number of different ways of how we interact with a device.

Path-based gestures are usually singe pointer action that require a certain level of dexterity for specific movement. This includes swiping horizontally or vertically to navigate around content, a click and drag action (for moving an icon or file) or having to move in any specific direction to interact with content, such as drawing a specific shape.

2.5.1 – Pointer Gestures (Level A)

The Pointer Gestures Success Criterion states:

All functionality that uses multipoint or path-based gestures for operation can be operated with a single pointer without a path-based gesture, unless a multipoint or path-based gesture is essential.

This requirement applies to web content that interprets pointer actions (i.e. this does not apply to actions that are required to operate the user agent or assistive technology).

For some users the use of fingers or a stylus is difficult as they may have poor dexterity or precision, limiting their ability to interact with content. Likewise someone that uses a single pointing item, such as a stylus, will not be able to complete multi-point gestures.

Single pointer actions

Therefore web page authors have to create an alternative way for a user to interact with content using a single pointer. A single pointer only has three possible actions: a single tap, double tap and long press. If the user has a mouse this would be through single, double and long clicks.

There may also be users who don’t use a trackpad at all, such as keyboard or speech users, then they also will not be able to do path-based or multi-point gestures. Provision needs to be included for them, where the space bar will act like the click of a mouse.

Examples of provision might be through the addition of buttons, for example zoom buttons on a map, which can be activated through single clicks. Another example might be a volume slider that can be activated by clicking anywhere on the slider line to choose that volume level.

The criterion doesn’t mean that if a designer has content with complex gestures they will fail, but rather that there must be an alternative single pointer method available for those who cannot accomplish multi-point gestures. Failure to provide an alternative single pointer gesture will result in a component failing this criterion.


The criterion specifically states that there are exceptions where a user must use either a multipoint or path gesture. An example of this could be as part of a game, where a specific path based gesture may be required. This may also be required for other interactions with a feature where more than one point of contact is needed. As mentioned earlier, a designer should still try to accommodate an alternative to multipoint and path based gestures.


Complex gestures, such as multi point and path-based gestures, are commonplace on both mobile devices through touchscreens and laptops and other computers through a trackpad. These gestures are useful as they allow us to complete a larger number of actions quickly, but for some users who have low dexterity or use a stylus, these actions may not be possible.

The WCAG 2.1 guidelines now include the Pointer Gestures success criterion to accommodate users who cannot complete complex gestures. Web page authors must include an alternative method for users, such as allowing a number of options to be completed using a single button whether on a mouse, trackpad or touchscreen through single, double or long presses.

Does your website include complex gestures?

Complex Gestures are useful for a large number of users, and allow for greater interaction with a website, but they are not inclusive for everyone. It is possible that some features have been included in your website that may restrict some users.

Feel free to contact Dig Inclusion to talk about pointer gestures and how we can make your website more accessible.