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Build An Accessible React Carousel

Build An Accessible React Carousel

Hey front end developer! Are you working on your React.js skills? Looking for a project that uses React Hooks? If you’re wanting to learn how to build an Accessible React Carousel from scratch, or if you just want to ensure you implement a carousel that’s actually accessible, then you’re in the right place. This post walks you through how to create a completely accessible carousel with React.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

image of the finished project. A black and grey image carousel with previous and next buttons

The Idea behind this project is a React accessible carousel made for assistive tech users, as well as mobile and desktop users.

  • Creating a visual experience for sighted users
  • Creating an audio experience for screen reader users
  • Creating a responsive experience for enlarged screens and mobile devices
  • Building a Translation ready project for users who may not speak English
  • Built in animation consent for users with vestibular, or sensory impairments.
  • Color, iconography, and labeling for cognitive difficulties

This React accessible carousel comes out of the box with features that allow all users to experience it equally.

A main point on this carousel is that it is built to be interacted with for people consenting to interact with it. In other words, we aren’t forcing motion onto any users who may not want to experience that. Instead, they get to choose whether they want to interact with the carousel or not.

Check out the build here, and see it in action right here.

App Component

The major elements we’re going to cover in the App Component are the Slide Component, Instructions, and Gallery Controls. As you can see in the image below, we have

  • 5 Slide Components within an unordered-list element.
  • Below the [aria-labelledby=”gallery-label”] element is the instructions div
  • Below that is our gallery-controls div where we are using Buttons Components.

Want more accessibility? Learn WTH exactly WAI ARIA is and how to use it!

State and Function of the App Component

The App Components uses the useState() React Hook on the main element to handle Mouse Touch events for mobile users. The point behind this use of state is to ensure that our labeling of the Instruction Component will work appropriately on mobile and not just on desktop.

We define the use of state like this:

const [touched, setTouched] = useState('');

We set the state on the main element like this and call an onTouchStart function:

<main onTouchStart={onMainTouchStart} className={`carousel ${touched}`}>

Next, we create the onMainTouchStart function which will add a class name to the main element when touched:

const onMainTouchStart = () => {

Styling the touched class

We add the following style which is going to make a lot more sense when we build the instruction component:

.touched #hover {
    display: block!important;

Focus Management

For the [aria-labelledby='gallery-label'] element, we are adding a tabIndex attribute of 0. This allows the user to navigate to the body of the carousel component.

When the keyboard is focused on this element, the instructions will print out a different message than if the user mouses over it. That helps the message be clearer depending on the device.

<div role="region" aria-labelledby="gallery-label" tabIndex="0" aria-describedby="focus">


The instructions div contains a paragraph tags that explain to the user how to interact with the accessible carousel. Note that an aria-live attribute has been added to the keyboard controls instructions. Screen reader users can’t use a mouse, so we can reasonably assume that they’ll be alerted of the correct instructions when they interact with the page.

Instruction HTML

    <div className="instructions">
        <p id="hover">use buttons or scroll left or right to view the images</p>
        <p id="focus" aria-live="polite">use buttons, tab, or your left and right arrow keys to view the images</p>

Instruction CSS

Next, we need to style each of these paragraphs so only the correct instructions appear depending on the device and interaction from the user. We start by setting the display to none on the hover and focus messages.

Then we include the :hover and :focus sudo classes and the .touched class we talked about earlier to display when the gallery-label element is either hovered by a mouse, focussed on by a keyboard, or touched by a touch device.

#hover, #focus {
    display: none;
    text-align: center;
    max-width: 50%;
    word-break: break-word;
    margin: 10px auto;
[aria-labelledby="gallery-label"]:hover + .instructions #hover, 
[aria-labelledby="gallery-label"]:focus + .instructions #focus,
.touched #hover {
    display: block!important;

When the keyboard focuses on the [aria-labelledby="gallery-label"] element, the paragraph explains to the user to use the buttons, tab key, or the left or right arrow buttons.

If the user is using the mouse or a touch screen and focuses on this element, the paragraph tells them to use the buttons or scroll left or right.

This is partially the Key Concept of Feedback, and partially the concept of Focus. How the user accesses the component will inform the type of instructions they’re given.

dev tools is open. a message in the carousel controls says "use buttons, tab, or your left and right arrows to view the images". the code shows a div with the class instructions and 2 paragraph tags, one with an aria-live attribute

Slide Component

The Slide Component is made up of a list item, figure, image and linked figcaption. The idea behind this component is a gallery of image items. We could change these to be whatever we want, like a post carousel, but for the purposes of this tutorial we’re doing an image gallery.

Below we see the list item, figure, img, figcaption etc that all make up a Slide Component:

According to the Unsplash API documentation, the gallery should have a link back to the artist’s profile. There are some other required items to include here, so if you use Unsplash be sure to pay attention to those.

To make the gallery accessible, the images should include an alt description too. Some artists on Unsplash incorporate alt descriptions, and using the Unsplash API, you can pull that information into a prop.

  • the image url
  • the artists name
  • whether or not the image should be lazyloaded in

We’re going to use chrome native lazy loading to help speed up the load time of our carousel. Images in the initial paint shouldn’t be lazy loaded. Since I designed the carousel to show the first two images by default, I left out the lazy loading attributes on the first two Slide Components.

Props of the Slide Component

The props of the Slide Component are as follows;

  • We pass the {url} prop to the image file
  • the alt attribute gets the {description} prop
  • the artist’s name is the {caption} prop
  • the artist’s link as the {user} prop
  • and whether or not the image will use lazy loading or not with the prop{loading}
import React from "react";

const Slide = ({url, description, caption, user, loading}) => {
return (
        <figcaption><a href={user} target="_blank" rel="noreferrer" title={`to ${caption} profile`}> By: {caption}</a></figcaption>
        <img loading={loading} width="700px" src={url} alt={`the photographer's desctipion is ${description}`} />

export default Slide;

Once the slide has been incorporated into the App Component and we have defined these props from the Unsplash API, we end up with a list item that looks something like this:

the carousel

Looking for more ways to make your React projects accessible? Don’t miss how to write accessible unit tests with RTL here.

We make up the Gallery Controls with two list items containing toggle buttons. The buttons scroll the carousel for the user. You may have noticed by now that this carousel doesn’t scroll automatically. That’s intentional.

Fast paced movement can actually cause physical pain and discomfort for some users. Giving the users complete control to move the gallery when they want to is the more inclusive way to design these types of elements.

Incorporating the Button Components

Check out my accessible toggle buttons post here to learn how to build these highly reusable components. I’ve taken these buttons and placed them within the same App Component file.

Props of the Buttons Component

If you checked out that tutorial, you may have noticed that I’ve changed the way the Props work in the Buttons components in this project.

The Buttons component needed the following props:

  • {label} for the button text and classname,
  • {fontIcon} for the appropriate Font Awesome icon,
  • {ariaButton}to control the state of the aria-pressed attribute, and
  • {onEvent} to create unique event handling for the button’s use.

Include the Button Component in the same file as the App Component:

const Buttons = ({label, fontIcon, ariaButton, onEvent}) => {
    return (
        <div className="button-section">
        <button onClick={onEvent} className={label} aria-pressed={ariaButton} type="button">{fontIcon}{label}{fontIcon}</button>

I realized I needed my previous and next buttons to perform different tasks. The previous button needed to scroll to the left and the next needed to scroll to the right. I was also able to refactor these buttons so the fontIcon prop could call the icon necessary for the button (ie. for the previous button the faIconPrev icon).

Utilize State for the Button Components

We are defining state for the aria-pressed attribute to handle the function and styling of our button.

The faIconNext and faIconPrev states define the Font Awesome Icon we’ll be using for the button.

//button hooks
    const [ariaPressed, setAriaPressed] = useState(false); 
    const [faIconNext, setFaIconNext]           = useState(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faForward} />);
    const [faIconPrev, setFaIconPrev]           = useState(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faBackward} />);

Utilize Scroll Functions with the UseRef Hook

In the App component, define the galleryRef:

const galleryRef            =   useRef();

Back on the aria-labelledby="gallery-label" element, we utilize this ref:

<div ref={galleryRef} role="region" aria-labelledby="gallery-label" tabIndex="0" aria-describedby="focus">

Scroll Functions

Inside the App Component, I create the scrollNext, and scrollPrev function to scroll to the left or right respectively using the galleryRef element:

const scrollNext = () => {
        top: 0,
        left: 625,
        behavior: 'smooth'
const scrollPrev = () => {
        top: 0,
        left: -585,
        behavior: 'smooth'

OnClick Button Events

We define the onEvent prop for each button from the Buttons Component:

        <Buttons ariaButton={ariaPressed} onEvent={onButtonPrevClick} fontIcon={faIconPrev} label="previous" />
        <Buttons ariaButton={ariaPressed} onEvent={onButtonNextClick} fontIcon={faIconNext} label="next" />

Next inside the onButtonNextClick and onButtonPrevClick functions we’ll call the scrollNext or scrollPrev functions respectively, and set the state for the font icon.

//next click
const onButtonNextClick = () => {
   if (ariaPressed === false){
       setFaIconNext(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faThumbsUp} />);
       setTimeout(() => {
        setFaIconNext(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faForward} />);
     }, 600);
     console.log("button clicked");
   } else {
      setFaIconNext(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faForward} />);
//prev click
const onButtonPrevClick = () => {
    if (ariaPressed === false){
        setFaIconPrev(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faThumbsUp} />);
        setTimeout(() => {
         setFaIconPrev(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faBackward} />);
      }, 600);
  console.log("button clicked");
    } else {
       setFaIconPrev(<FontAwesomeIcon icon={faBackward} />);

What we end up with is cohesive and exact button behavior for each of our buttons:


Robust Accessibility features

This app is fully responsive, allowing for screen magnifiers to zoom in and not lose any information. The font color for the links meets the contrast minimum of 3:1 with surrounding text to provide better usability for cognitive ease. An Aria live region exists to alert screen reader users of the instructions to use the carousel. The colors meet contrast minimum for WCAG AA Conformance. And aria states are communicated to the screen reader when the buttons are pressed. Finally, the carousel does not use automatic scrolling or automatic movement of any kind. This allows for a more user friendly carousel.


Hopefully now you have the basic building blocks you need to build any kind of Accessible Carousel with React.js.

A wider audience of users will be able to utilize and enjoy your React accessible carousel.

Some key concepts covered were how to create visual feedback based on the device and current usage. We utilize color, iconography, and labeling for easier cognitive load for sighted users. We widened our audience by incorporating labeling for users who aren’t sighted and who may not speak English. And by incorporating focus management and consent into the build, our Accessible React Carousel is inclusive of all types of users.

Don’t forget to check out the source code in full here to see all of the moving parts together and thanks for stopping by.

Looking for more React projects? Check out how to make an accessible To Do List using ReactJS here.

Photo by Serge Kutuzov on Unsplash