I have a question regarding the web content accessibility guidelines.

I have been asked to review whether a web application respects the WCAG 2.0 AA web standard.

I have to indicate the criteria that are in error, with suggestions on how to correct them.

In the application, there is a page that requires cookies to work properly. If the user has disabled cookies, there is a generic error message that appears.

Error occurred

Internal error occurred while processing your request.

Please try again later.

In my opinion, this would fail on the criterion

3.3.2 Labels or Instructions

The intent of this Success Criterion is to help users avoid making mistakes when their input is required. To help avoid mistakes it is good user interface design to provide simple instructions and cues for entering information. Some users with disabilities may be more likely to make mistakes than users without disabilities or recovery from mistakes may be more difficult, making mistake avoidance an important strategy for users with disabilities. People with disabilities rely on well documented forms and procedures to interact with a page. Blind users need to know exactly what information should be entered into form fields and what the available choices are. Simple instructions visually connected to form controls can assist users with cognitive disabilities or those accessing a page using a screen magnifier.

The intent of this Success Criterion is not to clutter the page with unnecessary information but to provide important cues and instructions that will benefit people with disabilities. Too much information or instruction can be just as much of a hindrance as too little. The goal is to make certain that enough information is provided for the user to accomplish the task without undue confusion or navigation.

However, some elements of the criterion seem to be focusing on user input.

I think this would also fail the 3.3.3 Error Suggestion criterion since there is an error and possible solutions are known.

However, 3.3.3 also seems to be focusing on user input.

This could also be a user experience issue that falls beyond the scope of what I was asked, but should I mark those criteria as failed ?

2 Answers 2


As you noted, 3.3.2 and 3.3.3 are for input errors only. So they don't apply to your error message.

I didn't find any WCAG 2 guideline that would be directly related to non-form error messages (like error 403/404/…, "JS required", "Cookies required" etc.).

However, if the site makes a conformance claim, it needs to mention that cookies are relied upon (some may argue that cookies are not a "technology", though).

Despite WCAG not mentioning it, I think this error message is bad, not only for accessibility, but for usability reasons, too. The first thing: It doesn't tell why something went wrong. And even worse: It suggests to try again later. So users get the impression that the server has temporary problems, and they might try again, again and again.

  • I agree with you that it is a usability error. The site does not make an explicit conformance claim, but this is for a government system and it is required that it meets the WCAG guidelines.
    – Martin
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 16:13
  • So, I'd say according to WCAG 2 AA there is no problem. You don't need a conformance claim, and you don't have to follow any special rules for such error messages.
    – unor
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 20:06
  • I ended up writing something like : Usability note: Even if this does not fall under any of the WCAG 2.0 AA criterion, the following error should be corrected: When clicking on one of the buttons with cookies disabled, you are sent to an error page with no help indicating what went wrong.
    – Martin
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 21:32

I would. It's a pretty serious oversight not to have meaningful errors outside of WCAG, and it certainly makes things easier for your disabled users.

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