Links and Hypertext
Introduction to Links and Hypertext

Overview

Hypertext links are one of the most basic elements of HTML, as its name implies (HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language). As such, making hypertext links accessible is one of the most basic and most important aspects of web accessibility. For the most part, this is an easy task. Standard hypertext links work with all technologies and platforms and users of all abilities can access them, whether directly or through the use of some sort of assistive technology. As might be expected though, there is more to hypertext link accessibility than simply creating a link. Some types of links are more accessible than others, and some types of links are completely inaccessible to people with certain types of disabilities. Because links are so basic to the functionality of web content, inaccessible links are one of the most severe barriers to overall accessibility.

Keyboard Accessibility of Links

Users must be able to navigate to and select each link using the keyboard alone. In most browsers, the Tab key allows users to jump from link to link, and the Enter key allows users to select a link. If the only way to access a link is with a mouse, the link is unusable by people who cannot use a mouse. How is it even possible to create a link that is inaccessible by keyboard? The most common method is by using JavaScript event handlers that do not permit keyboard access (see the article on JavaScript Event Handlers).

Important

Links must have a non-empty href attribute in order to be considered true links and to be accessible to keyboard users.

One of the most serious barriers is to create links that go nowhere. Developers sometimes use JavaScript to create dynamic menus that drop down when the user hovers over certain links with the mouse. In some cases, the link itself goes nowhere at all, and its only purpose is to expose the links in the drop-down menu, which do have real destinations. Links like this often have a pound sign as the link destination, which means that the link destination is the same page; clicking on the link accomplishes nothing. Both keyboard users and mouse users will experience nothing at all when attempting to activate the link.

Bad Example

The link in this example goes nowhere. Its only purpose is to activate a JavaScript function.

<a href="#" onmouseover="dropdownmenu()">Products</a>

Mouse users will at least be able to click on the links in the drop-down menu, but keyboard users cannot access the drop-down menu, so the link is completely useless and all of the link destinations in the drop-down menu are completely inaccessible to them. One solution is to abandon the drop-down menu and instead use standard hypertext links. Another solution is to specify a real link destination (e.g. href="products.htm") which would list the same links that are available via the drop-down menu. For more information see example 2 in onMouseOver section of the JavaScript Event Handlers article.

Screen Readers and Links

Screen readers generally inform users that a piece of text (or a graphic) is a link

Most screen readers say "link" before each link. For example, a "products" link would be read as "link products" by JAWS.

Implication: Links do not need to include "link" in the link text, because all users already know that the link is a link. This is more of an issue with graphics used as links. The alt text for a graphic does not need to say "link" or "link to." Otherwise, JAWS users will hear "link graphic link to Products," which is redundant.