How to Design Accessible Toggles

A toggle is a user interface control that allows users to select one of two opposing states — for example, on and off. The control typically displays a different appearance in each state and delivers immediate results to the user when they flip it. The toggle is commonly seen in options menus and settings screens, but can also be used elsewhere to update preferences or configurations. It’s important to consider the context in which you use the toggle, and ensure that it’s designed with accessibility in mind.

When designing toggles it’s critical that they clearly indicate what the switch will do if activated. This is often accomplished with direct labels and visual cues like movement and color. It’s best to avoid using ambiguous or neutral labels, as they can cause confusion. Instead, try to keep the label short and direct and limit the number of words – ideally only two or three. Using clear and concise labels can reduce the cognitive load on the user, which can help prevent accidental selections or misinterpretations of the toggle’s current state.

Toggles are often used to implement feature flags that allow developers to dynamically re-configure specific services at runtime. This can help with validation testing and provide a more flexible way to test code changes without the need to re-deploy a new version of the artifact in a shared environment. However, if used inappropriately this type of toggle can create significant friction in your development and testing workflows. It’s important to understand the tradeoffs and design your toggle with this in mind to avoid friction and make your feature flags more effective.

Because of their lack of visual clues, toggles can be confusing for users if not carefully designed. It’s important to design them with clear and concise labels, and utilize visual cues to avoid confusion – especially for users with low vision or motor impairments. For instance, a toggle that uses green to signify on can be very confusing for users with red/green color blindness. In such cases, it might be better to use a checkbox or radio button.

In most cases, toggles should only be used for binary actions that require immediate results — for example, changing the default state of a form field or turning off an option in a settings menu. It’s best to use other types of controls for more complex or lengthy interactions, such as dropdowns or radio buttons.

It’s also important to make sure your toggles are accessible – particularly for users with screen readers or other assistive technologies. This is often an overlooked aspect of toggle design, and many people incorrectly assume that the input> tag can be used to mark a toggle as active. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work and can lead to a confusing user experience for people with assistive technology. If you’re using a toggle and want to ensure it’s immediately visible to users with assistive technologies, consider implementing a process status loop animation.