Navigation and identification: accessibility for designers

  • Author: Access iQ ®
  • Date: 4 Mar 2015
  • Access: Premium

Quick facts

The primary activity for everyone accessing a webpage is to navigate it and read it.

  • Don't impede or replicate browser controls
  • Headings and labels benefit users of assistive technology
  • Breadcrumbs can orient users who navigate into deep pages (generally, pages that require four+ clicks to access from the homepage)
  • Creating patterns across webpages orients users

The primary activity for everyone accessing a webpage is to navigate it and read it. Designing for people without disabilities is enough of a challenge without the added challenge of including accessibility requirements. One advantage of designing with accessibility in mind is that making a site accessible helps with usability more generally, since so much is improved when people with disabilities have been catered for.

Labels and landmarks aid navigation

For people with disabilities, the use of labels for form elements and controls supports their access to the same information provided visually to other users. Anything that requires their attention, like a form, leads somewhere else, like a link, or is a control, like a play button on a media player is easier to find if it has a clear and meaningful label. Additionally, like a memorable journey, a webpage should have obvious landmarks, obvious to everyone. It's great if a design has clear visual landmarks, but it also needs to have those same landmarks available to people with disabilities. This is true for all types of websites.

Label tables and applications

Page elements like tables, sections and even threads of text several paragraphs long benefit from landmarks and structure that help a user move through them. Often, for example a user might navigate the headings to gain understanding of the theme or flow of an article. Applications and widgets, any portions of a webpage that the user interacts with without needing to refresh the browser or change the screen substantially also need clear labels for the indicators, controls and descriptions. A mortgage calculator, for example, would need to ensure the inputs, buttons, and resulting calculations are also available to people with disabilities.

Retain browser controls like the "back" button

It is considered unhelpful when websites disable or impede common browser tool, like the "back" function, which allows you to move back through your browsing history. It is acceptable to supplement them, though, like adding a tool to resize text or to easily move back in a multi-page process without losing entered information.

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