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Re: Initial focus on search field?


From: Michael Bullis, Executive Director, The IMAGE Center of Maryland
Date: Sep 23, 2014 7:24AM

As a user and not a developer, I too think it's a usability issue. If the
way you want visual people to use the site is by starting them at the
searchbox, then do it for nonvisual users as well. Google, back in earlier
iterations, use to set the focus to the searchbox automatically. I found it
very helpful, since that's where I wanted to go mostly.

-----Original Message-----
[mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ] On Behalf Of Tim Harshbarger
Sent: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 9:00 AM
To: WebAIM Discussion List
Subject: Re: [WebAIM] Initial focus on search field?

I will offer a dissenting viewpoint.

There is nothing inherently inaccessible about setting the focus to a
specific field on a page.

It isn't a problem for screen reader users because screen readers don't even
always start reading from the top of the page when focus isn't set to a
field. I also think that, if a screen reader has spent much time on the
web, they won't think a search field or any other field is likely to be the
first item on the page.

It sounds like the problem for keyboard users is not so much setting focus
to a field as much as it is ensuring a keyboard user knows where the focus

Certainly, it sounds like setting focus to a specific field might sometimes
cause additional annoyance to keyboard users, but I'm not sure that is the
same as being an accessibility issue. That sounds more like a usability
issue. However, at the same time, it sounds like the reason for setting
focus to a field is in order to make the user interface more usable.

I would actually tell the developer not to do any special kind of coding.
Just set focus to the field and don't hide any focus indicators.


-----Original Message-----
[mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ] On Behalf Of Robert Fentress
Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 2:35 PM
To: WebAIM Discussion List
Subject: [WebAIM] Initial focus on search field?

Hello, all.

Do you have a sense for what is best practice concerning where focus should
initially be set on pages in complex web sites that contain a prominent
global search field on every page?

For our site, the search field appears after an initial set of navigation
links, and at this point, changing the order of the menu links and the
search field in the code isn't feasible. An original design constraint was
that the search field be automatically given focus upon page load, since
usability studies showed that most people preferred using search to navigate
the site.

However, I was concerned that this could present problems for screen reader
users who might not notice the list of links before the search field. This
does seem to be a common pattern on the web though, so I wonder if screen
reader users would expect (and perhaps prefer) this behavior.

Initially though, I recommended against explicitly setting focus.
Instead, I suggested best practice would be to add, at the start of the
page, a single skip link to the main content, and to create landmark regions
for the main page areas (including role="search" for the where the search
field appears). Screen reader users could then use landmark navigation to
quickly get to the search field.

The developer has gotten pushback though, because of the original design
requirement mandating that focus be set to the initial search field. He has
tried to be creative by not initially setting focus, instead making it so
that, as soon as the user begins typing, focus is set to the search field.
So a tab takes the user to the first link in the menu on the page, but
typing "a search string" automatically moves the user to the search field
and enters the text typed into the field.
This is problematic, though, because some keys are reserved as page
navigation commands by some screen readers, such that typing "b" takes you
to the first button on the page, etc.

At this point, given the constraints we're operating under, I'm leaning
towards just telling him to set focus to the search field, with the thought
that screen reader users may expect this sort of thing and figure things
out, especially given the landmarks provided.
What do you think?


Robert Fentress
Senior Accessibility Solutions Designer

Technology-enhanced Learning & Online Strategies Assistive Technologies
1180 Torgersen Hall
620 Drillfield Drive (0434)
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
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