Accessible inline list with bullets between items

I had a list like this on my site for a long time:

Pizza · Döner · Kaffee

Until I’ve tried it in a screen reader and realized that a screen reader reads pseudo elements (::before and ::after) content that I was using to implement bullets.

A screen reader will read something like “Pizza MIDDLE DOT Döner MIDDLE DOT Kaffee”. Not good. Let’s try to fix it.

Wrong solution: text in pseudo elements

This is my original solution with a bullet character in a ::before pseudo element and adjacent sibling selector to show it only between elements, not in front of each element:

li + li::before {
  content: ' · ';
}

See the Pen  ZgYprX by Artem Sapegin (@iamsapegin) on CodePen.

Pros: simple.

Cons: not accessible. Screen readers will pronounce each bullet as middle dot or something similar.

Right solution: markup

A naïve solution to accessibility problems could be moving bullets to the markup and wrapping them with aria-hidden="true":

<ul>
  <li>Pizza <span aria-hidden="true"> · </span></li>
  <li>Döner <span aria-hidden="true"> · </span></li>
  <li>Kaffee</li>
</ul>

See the Pen  RXNGqb by Artem Sapegin (@iamsapegin) on CodePen.

Pros: works fine in screen readers.

Cons: I don’t like keeping things like list bullets in the markup if I can avoid that, but to use a text character as a bullet, this may be your only solution.

Right solution: image or CSS in pseudo elements

This is my final solution. It’s based on the initial, wrong, solution with pseudo element, but uses graphics for bullets. It can be CSS for simple shapes, like a circle or an arrow, or SVG for more complex shapes.

I have just a circle, so I’m using CSS:

ul {
  list-style: none;
  display: flex;
  flex-wrap: wrap;
}
li + li::before {
  content: '';
  display: inline-block;
  vertical-align: middle;
  margin: 0 0.5ch;
  width: 3px;
  height: 3px;
  border-radius: 50%;
  background-color: currentColor;
}

I’ve added display: flex to the ul to make it independent from possible whitespace in HTML.

See the Pen  wVBzZo by Artem Sapegin (@iamsapegin) on CodePen.

Pros: works fine in screen readers, clean markup.

Cons: a lot more CSS. Need to draw a bullet using CSS or SVG.

Conclusion

Both solutions don’t look great on small screens, when items can’t fit on a single line. I don’t know a perfect way to this, so consider it a homework. Let me know if you have find something good.

This case is a good reminder for us to be more mindful about accessibility of our sites and apps. We should do at least the basic accessibility testing and don’t always trust our intuition, like I did with this list, was wrong, and shipped inaccessible feature to production.