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Digital Accessibility

Heading Hierarchy

Structuring your headings can help all users understand and navigate your digital content more easily, including those with disabilities.

Organizing Headings

Headings help to break up text content into readable chunks. You can use heading levels 1 (<h1>) through 6 (<h6>) to establish a clear hierarchy of information. Nest headings in order, being careful not to skip heading levels, to make your content as understandable as possible for assistive technology users.

Start with heading 1.

Heading 1 is the most important heading on your page and should generally match the page title. It is a best practice to only use one heading 1 per page. Within your heading 1, you can nest multiple heading 2s and continue to sequentially build your heading hierarchy.

Be careful not to skip heading levels.

For instance, do not skip directly from a heading 3 to a heading 5 without a heading 4 nested between them. You can, however, jump back to a heading 3 from a heading 5.

Example of organizing headings by hierarchy:

Screenshot of heading hierarchy example. H1 Heading demo is the top heading with two h2s nested within it. One h3 is nested in the second h2.

Writing Headings

Headings should be descriptive and straightforward, communicating exactly what information someone will find if they engage with the content beneath that heading. Your goal should be to write headings that are so clear that someone could skim just your headings and understand the gist of the entire page.

Clear Heading Example: "Reasons Why Digital Accessibility is Key"
This heading lets us know exactly what will be discussed within its content.

Unclear Heading Example: "Information About Digital Accessibility" 
This heading is too vague to clearly communicate what information will follow.

The Semantics of Headings

Headings are for indicating the structure of your content, not for making your text look big or bold. Screen readers allow users with visual or cognitive disabilities to navigate a page by heading levels. It is important that headings are marked up using the styles built into your tool or program so that heading navigation works as expected.

If you simply need to make part of your content stand out, try using: 

  • Bold Text
  • Lists
  • Special Styling (if you have control of the content's design)

Be careful not to use empty headings for extra white space on your page. If you add a new line before a heading in a document or content management system, it may also be formatted as a heading but appear empty. A blank heading looks like a gap in your site structure to screen reader users.

Adding Headings in Specific Platforms

The way you'll add headings to your document or web page will depend on the platform you're using to publish digital content.

Pro Tip: In Microsoft Word, use the Accessibility Checker automated tool to verify that your document contains headings, and use the Navigation Pane to browse your document by any heading styles you've applied.

OCR Video Series: Heading Structure

Video thumbnail for Topic 17: Heading Structure.
Learn more about how to use proper heading structure in this topic from the OCR video series.


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