aria-invalid="true" with aria-describedby

As part of Django’s accessibility team, I’ve been doing a lot of research into specific patterns. Today – aria-required="true" combined with aria-describedby for error messages! Is it good? Is it redundant? What do authorative sources say?

This is a copy of my GitHub comment on django/django#15036 to keep for future reference.


TL;DR; “aria-invalid ="true" + aria-describedby pointing at error message” seems to me like it would be the best for Django. It’s recommended in the non-normative ARIA21 technique, and by a renowned expert in the field. I found one pattern that seems better than it in some cases, but I don’t think it’s as good of a fit for Django.

Recommendations for the pattern

I could find the following sources recommending aria-invalid="true" usage alongside aria-describedby:

When visible text is used to programmatically identify a failed field and / or convey how the error can be corrected, setting aria-invalid to “true” is not required from a strict compliance standpoint but may still provide helpful information for users.

[…] Or you can use aria-describedby to make the association, like this: […] > <input type="text" id="this" aria-describedby="error" ...> > […] > <p id="error">Don't forget to enter your first name!</p>

You can also use aria-invalid=”true” on the input, as you have done, for belt and braces information.

Those two sources indicate aria-describedby pointing at the error message could be sufficient. Using aria-invalid="true" basically just helps unambiguously identifying fields that are in error, rather than relying on the wording of the error messages conveyed via aria-describedby only.


I couldn’t find anyone actively recommending against this combination, however the GOV.UK design system decided not to use it. They instead added an “Error:” prefix for all error messages, as visually hidden / screen-reader-only text:

<p id="national-insurance-number-error" class="govuk-error-message">
  <span class="govuk-visually-hidden">Error:</span> Enter a National Insurance
  number in the correct format
  class="govuk-input govuk-input--error"
  aria-describedby="national-insurance-number-hint national-insurance-number-error"

I can see some clear advantages to this:

  • It’s equally as unambiguous for screen reader users that the fields are in error (compare Django’s This field is required. message or Enter a whole number. with Error: This field is required. or Error: Enter a whole number.).
  • “Error:” is more plain language than “Invalid entry”
  • Since this doesn’t rely on ARIA, screen reader support for this is better than aria-invalid="true"

I can also see some issues:

  • It’s more opinionated markup to maintain / less “by-the-book semantic HTML”
  • Django’s error messages are meant to be customized with no oversight on how implementers will ultimately word them, so adding a prefix wouldn’t always be appropriate.
  • It’s one more string that will need translations (not necessarily a big deal for such a generic word but does constraint the languages with which Django’s forms rendering could be used).

Recommendation for Django

Based on this, for Django, I’d still recommend aria-invalid="true" wherever possible, and aria-describedby for the error message wherever possible. So both together, wherever possible. It’s a more established pattern than bespoke error message prefixes, and lower maintenance. aria-invalid="true" support isn’t as good, but good enough for something that’s used in addition to aria-describedby.


  • This is based on a11ysupport.io data, which only tested support on <input type="text"> and <select>.
  • I only looked at aria-invalid="true". There are other aria-invalid values, which are harder to use and I wouldn’t recommend at this time.

Further references: