Scope attribute should be used correctly on tables

Rule ID: scope-attr-valid
User Impact: Critical
WCAG: Best Practice

Compliance Data & Impact

User Impact

Disabilities Affected

  • Blind
  • Deafblind
  • Mobility


  • Best Practice

WCAG Success Criteria

  • Not specified, or not applicable

Section 508 Guidelines

  • Not specified, or not applicable

Rule Description

The scope attribute must be used correctly on tables in accordance with either HTML4 or HTML5 specifications to enable efficient table navigation for screen reader users.

Why it Matters

The scope attribute makes table navigation much easier for screen reader users, provided that it is used correctly. Incorrectly used, scope can make table navigation much harder and less efficient.

A screen reader operates under the assumption that a table has a header and that this header specifies a scope. Because of the way screen readers function, having an accurate header makes viewing a table far more accessible and more efficient for people who use the device.

How to Fix the Problem

If you are using HTML5, check that the scope attribute is only being used on th elements. If you are using HTML 4, check that the scope attribute is only being used on th and td.

Finally, check that the value of the scope is either row or col, but nothing else.

Add scope attribute values to all th elements that do not have one.

The markup necessary to convey the relationship between header cells and data cells in data tables that are not complex can be accomplished using the scope attribute. The scope attribute tells the browser and screen reader that everything under the column is related to the header at the top, and everything to the right of the row header is related to that header.

Applying the scope attribute to a table in markup looks like this:

Good Example

<caption><strong>Greensprings Running Club Personal Bests</strong></caption>
    <th scope="col">Name</th>
    <th scope="col">1 mile</th>
    <th scope="col">5 km</th>
    <th scope="col">10 km</th>
    <th scope="row">Mary</th>
    <th scope="row">Betsy</th>
    <th scope="row">Matt</th>
    <th scope="row">Todd</th>

Note that the top headers for Name, 1 mile, 5 km and 10 km are all marked up with th elements, as are the row headers for Mary, Betsy, Matt and Todd. Each of these header cells have also been given the scope attribute values of col or row depending on whether they are column or row header cells.

The Algorithm (in simple terms)

Ensures that the scope attribute is used correctly on tables.