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Keyboard navigation accessibility is a primary accessibility tool and concern because keyboards are such a widely-used way to navigate the internet. Users with physical disabilities may rely on a keyboard because a mouse may be impossible for them to use, due to cognitive disabilities, motor control issues, or limb loss. Likewise, other users such as those with low vision may prefer keyboards for navigation with the addition of screen readers to more easily navigate online spaces and interactive elements. 

The Accessibly – Accessibility Widget makes keyboard accessibility easier than ever. When every element on your page is created to receive keyboard focus, it can help users navigate your site with only the tab key. That is a massive step towards making your web page and other web pages across the internet keyboard accessible.


What is keyboard navigation accessibility?

Making your web page keyboard accessible means that your site should be navigable using only the keyboard. That means using keyboard focus indicators, including backward keyboard focus indicators that provide a visual indicator of the focusable elements on your page. It means keyboard users can navigate a page using the tab key to cycle through the default keyboard navigation order, as well as using the spacebar or enter key to highlight and select elements.

Cognitive accessibility is a massive part of web accessibility because many people have these concerns. Web content accessibility guidelines note that many people who use assistive technologies are also users who may be unable to use a computer mouse because of their cognitive disabilities. Those with motor disabilities also rely on key commands to navigate between each focusable element in the tab order and successfully use web browsers.

Why is keyboard navigation accessibility important for web accessibility?

The design process for keyboard navigation accessibility is important for web accessibility as a whole because of the number of users who use only a keyboard for navigation. That is because keyboard-only users include a number of people who use the keyboard functionality because of permanent and temporary disabilities. For example, traditional keyboards or modified keyboards can be used for those with cognitive disabilities, motor disabilities, or temporary issues like a broken arm or a non-functional mouse. 

Keyboard accessibility is also important for screen reader users who may navigate using the key tab and may be able to better read the elements with a screen reader. When keyboard accessibility is built into your site, it can help users with assistive technologies, those with specific disabilities, or people who prefer to use a keyboard. That is a vital part of the accessibility process because allowing more users to make their personal preferences makes more web content accessible for everyone.

Understanding the needs of keyboard-only users

Keyboard-only users cover a wide range of people because they are useful for situational disabilities, permanent health conditions, and more, but many users prefer to use the tab key, escape key, and arrow keys over using a mouse. Because using a keyboard to navigate a website comes with specific keyboard interactions, developers need to consider each interactive element on their site and how keyboards and assistive technology will interact with them. 

Keep in mind that the visual flow and focusable components of your site will matter for keyboard users. As the user tabs through your page, items should be in a logical order based on how they will be tabbed through. It is also important to make interaction keystroke notes to better identify how the assistive technology users and keyboard users will interact with your website.

Designing for keyboard navigation accessibility

For screen reader users and keyboard-only users, certain design elements can cause issues. For example, a keyboard focusable element may lead to a keyboard trap, meaning you may be unable to navigate focus away from this element using only the keyboard. Issues like this are a major problem for keyboard navigation accessibility. 

When deciding focus order and the visual presentation of your site, keep in mind that elements like radio buttons, form fields, and drop down menus can all impact the navigation accessibility of your website. All keyboard users should be able to move on to the next focusable element, but certain elements could cause issues in this field. Here are a few specific ways developers and designers can keep keyboard navigation accessibility in mind throughout the design process.

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Creating logical keyboard navigation sequences with the tab key 

Keyboards should be able to navigate through the tabindex values of a website or form elements by simply using the tab key. This is an essential part of the accessibility of the keyboard, as other hardware may require more motion or clicks, which may be inefficient, physically difficult, or even painful for the user. Creating logical navigation sequences through your site can improve navigation for keyboard users.

These improvements can make a big difference in the quality of life for your users. Simply being able to logically navigate through your page can make your site more accessible for all users. That can mean less backtracking or searching for the elements they need to interact with.

Ensuring proper focus management

One of the more important aspects of keyboard navigation is focus management. Having the focus visible on the page as you tab through the website with the keyboard means that users can more easily see where they are on the page. While some of these visual cues are provided automatically when you use HTML, taking extra steps to add other details, such as the tabindex attribute, can help make your page more navigable.

When focus management is not at the forefront of your considerations, it is easy for users to get lost on the page. They may have difficulty identifying where their cursor is, for example. When the focus of the page is unclear, it can be difficult to properly manage the page, which can lead to dissatisfaction and leaving the site due to its lack of usability.

Using keyboard-friendly form controls for interactive elements

Screen readers and other assistive technologies might have a difficult time reading and navigating forms and other interactive elements on a site. While HTML and other coding options provide some visual and keyboard-friendly controls and cues, adding extra tools can boost your site’s accessibility. With these tools in action, keyboard users can more easily fill out forms and better navigate your site.

Providing visible keyboard focus indicators

One of the simplest ways to make keyboard focus indicators more user-friendly is to add more visible cues on the site. For example, when you press enter, a change in the background color of a button can help better visually indicate that you successfully selected the button. When an element is typically shown one way, adding some external cue to the user that something has changed can go a long way for accessibility. 

Keep in mind that the visual cues should also follow current accessibility guidelines and ensure that you are ADA-compliant. For example, if you use visual cues, make sure that they have a high color-contrast ratio, which can impact how accessible those indicators are. Likewise, your keyboard focus indicator should not be flashing in a way that can be distracting at best and at worst can lead to issues for the user.

Testing and validating keyboard accessibility

Taking the right steps to make your website more accessible to keyboard users is a great step forward, and one that more web developers and designers should take. However, any mistakes made in the process of creating the code can lead to issues in accessibility. Because of this, testing and validating accessibility efforts is a vital part of the accessibility process. 

Putting in the work for web accessibility, only to find out that several elements cannot be navigated with the keyboard or that your page contains a number of keyboard traps, can be frustrating. Rather than guessing and hoping these elements work properly, testing and validation make this process easier and more thorough. Always check that your pages are accessible via testing before your webpage goes live. 

Manual testing techniques

Typically, manual testing involves simply navigating your website without your mouse. As you complete this process, you can note any cases where you found yourself in a keyboard trap, were unable to make a selection, or otherwise struggled to identify where the focus was. Keeping track of changes that must be made can help you improve your site. 

Also, consider whether your tab key was able to navigate to every interactive object on the page. For example, if the tab key is unable to focus on a certain link or specific page element, There may be an issue in the coding that must be fixed. You should also try to ensure that all tabs are in a logical order as you navigate through the page.

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Automated accessibility testing tools

However, for those with a large site or multiple sites, manual testing can be a time-consuming and tedious process. While accessibility is a vital part of the design process, you may need to save time using automated accessibility tools, which can help you stay ADA-compliant without spending hours testing every single page on your website. 

Accessibly makes this easier. Our team provides widgets for accessibility features that can help your users better navigate your page. That includes tooltips and many visual changes, such as larger text, color contrast, and more.

How Accessibly’s expertise can enhance keyboard navigation accessibility

As you focus on improving keyboard navigation accessibility, keep in mind that accessibility widgets can further improve your site’s accessibility. Accessibly can enhance the visibility and ease of use when navigating your website and provide more information and clarification that make your site easier to navigate. 

For example, one of our Accessibly widgets offers link highlighting. This tool highlights every link available on a web page, which helps identify and distinguish links to navigate more easily. When you can better see the interactable elements on a page, you can more easily navigate to them using the keyboard and use the website as intended.

Accessibly’s features regarding keyboard navigation

Generally, keyboard navigation accessibility features should be part of the code of the website. When everything is properly coded, elements are indexed, and interactable elements are highlighted, users can better navigate web pages. While Accessibly does not offer specific tools for keyboard navigation, as many of these elements are specific to coding, our team can provide guidance on accessibility steps you can take. 

For example, Accessibly offers features such as scaling text for ease of reading, color contrasts, and a reading line that can help guide users through web pages with lots of text. These features are not specific to keyboard navigation but can make a web page more accessible in tandem with keyboard navigation tools. Using every feature available can help you make better decisions regarding accessibility and can help you take action.

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Upcoming technologies and trends in keyboard navigation accessibility

One of the bigger changes to keyboard navigation accessibility is haptic feedback and tactile interfaces. This feedback can provide a sensory experience that can better indicate certain features to the user. Other upcoming trends in technology include sign language recognition, smart glasses, artificial intelligence tools, and neurodiverse designs to create more inclusive environments in technology.

No matter what trends the future holds, keyboard navigation accessibility is always in style. That is why Accessibly focuses on helping our clients get the keyboard accessibility and other resources they need to thrive. We want to give each of our clients the features they need to help users better navigate their website. 

If you are seeking help with your keyboard navigation accessibility problems, or if you are prepared to take other steps towards accessibility, reach out to our team at Accessibly. We can be reached through a call or our online contact form. We are here to answer all your questions about accessibility and what you can do to create a more accessible internet.
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