Have you ever heard someone use the term keyboard navigation and wondered just exactly how that works? I know when I first started exploring accessibility options, keyboard navigation was a term that I frequently saw but never really understood. I was aware of keyboard shortcuts, and figured that was essentially what people meant, but I never really understood how much keyboard navigation could help until I started writing about digital accessibility.

Keyboards > Trackpad (or Mouse)

After a long day of working on the computer, sometimes my trackpad accuracy is lower. I can’t control my hand movements as well to move the cursor, and miss my target hovering over tiny text on websites. That might seem like a small issue, but at times it prevents me from getting my work done, and more than anything it’s frustrating. A lot of people with dexterity and mobility issues have this problem every day. The fine movements necessary to navigate a site using a trackpad or a traditional mouse might not be a possibility.

Whether it’s due to a disability, temporary condition, or just overwork, there needs to be another way for people to navigate websites. This is why keyboard navigation is such a big deal. It allows people who have difficulty using a trackpad or mouse to use their computer without issue. However, a lot of the time websites are not conducive to this type of navigation. Careful consideration and planning goes into many aspects of web development, but keyboard navigation is frequently overlooked.

As is so often the case, the internet is built for a standard user in an ideal environment and in optimal physical health. However, there are millions of people who need accessibility modifications in order to use the web the way it was intended. Think about your elderly parents or grandparents for example.

These days, many of them use computers for everything from email to getting the news. As they age, arthritis and dexterity issues are more and more common. These problems can make it nearly impossible for them to interact with the web in the way they are used to, and can cause them to shun new technology or not get the most out of their devices. Keyboard shortcuts can help create a more fulfilling and simple digital experience, and ensure they can keep using the technology they have come to rely on daily.

What Shortcuts Are There?

Keyboard shortcuts vary depending on what brand of device you are using.

There are also ways for you to customize the keystrokes to make sure the navigation techniques are intuitive to the way you work and the mobility that you have. This can help you well beyond navigating websites. For example, keyboard navigation can be useful if you are creating a digital document, or working with multiple applications at once. Brian Croxall wrote a great article for The Chronicle of Higher Education explaining how to create helpful shortcuts that might give you some ideas on how you can optimize your keyboard to work for you.

How Can I Make My Site Keyboard Navigation Friendly?

So glad you asked that! First, UserWay’s widget can really help out in this area. Once you install the UserWay widget (it’s free and only takes a few minutes), then the widget will make smart modifications to the parts of your website that might not work so well with keyboard based navigation. If the widget finds something that doesn’t comply with guidelines or will likely create problems, it will amend them without requiring any effort or coding on your part.

If you want to do more to ensure that all users can access your content with just keyboard navigation, then user testing is likely your best bet. You can even do this yourself by testing your website’s navigation using just the keyboard.

Try getting to specific content and see if it’s easy to find, or if it takes a long time and a lot of keystrokes. If you get frustrated, your users probably will too, and you might need to make some changes. This is especially true for complex menus or navigation structures. Your site should be easy to navigate and clearly laid out so that every user can find what they need no matter how they access your site.

Help users find their way around