1.3.4: Orientation -New SC in the WCAG 2.1

Success Criterion 1.3.4 Orientation (Level AA): Content does not restrict its view and operation to a single display orientation, such as portrait or          landscape, unless a specific display orientation is essential.
Examples where a particular display orientation may be essential are a bank check, a piano application, slides for a projector or television, or virtual reality content where binary display orientation is not applicable.



There are some users, especially people with cerebral palsy who uses wheel chair, keep their phone/tab in the fixed orientation(either portrait or landscape). In other words, phone/tab is mounted on their wheel chairs and cannot be rotated very easily. What if website is designed in such a way that it needs to be viewed only in the particular orientation and user is expected to rotate their device to match the requirement. In that case, website is going to become unusable for those users and it is a problem.

WCAG 2.1 introduced a new checkpoint/success criteria  called “1.3.4: Orientation” to address this type of problems.  This success criterion requires the content to be displayed in both orientations(portrait and landscape). In a simple words, websites and applications need to support both orientations by not restricting the orientation. Changes in content or functionality due to the size of display are not covered by this criteria which is focused on restrictions of orientation.

Pass scenarios

Let us look into the few scenarios where it meets this success criteria.

  • Online video site: A video is shown in either portrait or in landscape based on the user’s chosen orientation.
  • Messaging website: A messaging website can display messages in both portrait and landscape orientations.
  • eReader web app: An eReader web app can display the contents of a book in both portrait and landscape orientation.


In all the above cases, the content is displayed in the both orientations and therefore, it satisfies this success criterion.

Exception scenarios

There are exceptions to this success criterion. If the specific display orientation is essential then it is not required to meet this success criteria. Let us look into the few examples where the specific orientation is essential

  • Check deposit in banking app: An example where orientation is essential could be a banking app that requires the device be in landscape mode to easily and accurately capture an image of a check for deposit. These paper forms are typically about twice as wide as they are high.
  • Piano app: An example where orientation is essential could be a piano app that requires the device to be in landscape mode to allow room for enough of the piano keys to be functionally usable. Since a piano app is emulating a physical piano keyboard that needs to retain relative physical characteristics between keys, either too few keys would be available, or the keys would be much too narrow.


In the above cases, it Is not necessary to meet this success criterion as specific orientation is essential. In other words, if screen orientation is changed for the above cases then purpose is going to be lost.

Optional notes on the device level orientation and system level orientation

Device level orientation and system level orientation are not one and the same. Device level orientation generally refers to the actual rotation of the device either from the landscape to portrait or portrait to landscape but not the content as a whole. What does it mean? Let me put it in the simple way. While viewing the website in the portrait on your device, we might want to view it to the landscape for the different reason. What we do is that we rotate the actual device from the portrait to landscape in order to view in the landscape orientation. When we do so, do you think website is also going to be changed as per the device landscape orientation. Answer is no. the reason is that we are just rotating the device but not the content as a whole. Ok, then whose responsibility is to change the content as per the device orientation. Answer is the system level orientation.

Even though the content Is not restricted to particular orientation, there are certain scenarios where the content would not reflow as per the device display orientation. When does that happen? It happens when the device is locked at particular orientation. The content would not re-flow how much ever we turn the device when the device is locked. To put it in the simpler, when we rotate the device with the device orientation locked then device is going to be turned but the content does not re-flow as per the device orientation despite of the content is not being restricted by the author. It is important to distinguish between an author’s responsibility not to restrict content to a specific orientation, and device-specific settings governing the locking of display orientation.

Many hand-held devices offer a mechanical switch or a system setting (or both) to allow the user to lock the device display to a specific orientation. Where a user decides to lock their entire device to an orientation, all applications are expected to pick up that setting and to display content accordingly.

This Success Criterion complements device “lock orientation” settings. A web page that does not restrict its display orientation will always support the system-level orientation setting, since the system setting is picked up by the user agent. Alternatively, where a device-level orientation lock is not in place, the user agent should display the page according to the orientation of the device (either its default, or the current orientation determined by any device sensors).



  • Users with dexterity impairments, who have a mounted device will be able to use the content in their fixed orientation.
  • Users with low-vision will be able to view content in the orientation that works best for them, for example to increase the text size by viewing content in landscape.


Here are the few techniques that author can use to meet this success criterion

  • Using CSS to set the orientation to allow both landscape and portrait.
  • Use of show/hide controls to allow access to content in different orientations.

·        References

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