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Abbreviations suck

Last week, I had a discussion with some web friends about how the abbr element actually sucks for accessibility.

The abbr element is supposed to be used to denote an abbreviation or acronym. If you include a title attribute, you can describe what the abbreviation or acronym means. It’s surfaced as a tooltip in certain browsers on hover.

<abbr title="Cascading Style Sheets">CSS</abbr>

The thing is… the abbr element sucks, and you probably shouldn’t use it. Let’s dig in!

What’s the problem with abbr?

Just a few days after my conversation, Martin Underhill published a great article going into some details. It’s definitely worth a read.

But here are the two big highlights:

  • Screen readers don’t actually read/announce the title attribute aloud, so visually impaired users can’t access the definition.
  • The title attribute shows up on :hover. That means you have to know to hover over it, and have a device that supports hovering as an input. So… touch-only devices? Nothing.

What should you use instead?

Nearly 100 percent of the time, the better option is to just write out what the acronym stands for the first time you use.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)

It’s actually less work and provides a better user experience.