* - Links - Links Not Indicating Change of Context

What the issue is

Links that do not notify the user of a change in context, such as opening a new window or tab, or causing a document to unexpectedly download, navigating away from the current page, or triggering a significant change on the current page without prior warning. may disorient users when the context changes unexpectedly, not knowing if the action took them to a new page, opened a new window, or made changes without their knowledge. This can be especially problematic for users relying on assistive technologies, as they may not detect the context change.

Why this is important

Providing users with prior notification of context changes is crucial for a predictable navigating experience. Without this, users might not be aware of changes that could affect their navigational decisions. For example, knowing if a link will open in a new tab or window helps users decide if they want to activate it. This notification is vital for users of screen readers or those who cannot easily return to the previous state if the context changes unexpectedly.

Who it affects

This issue affects:

  1. Users of screen readers, screen-magnifiers,  and other assistive technologies who rely on predictable navigation and notifications of changes.
  2. Users with cognitive disabilities who may become disoriented or confused by unexpected changes.
  3. Users who rely on keyboard navigation and could be disoriented by unexpected context changes, making navigation back to the initial state challenging.

How to remediate the issue

  1. Ensure that links provide a clear indication if they will open in a new window or tab, or cause a significant change in the current page. This can be achieved through text within the link, an adjacent icon with an appropriate text alternative, or through ARIA roles and properties.
  2. Ensure that the type of link is obvious, for example links to a PDF document should indicate so (do not hide the PDF behind URL rewriting).
  3. Consider not opening new windows or tabs unless it's necessary for the user experience. If it is, provide users with control and prior warning.
  4. Implement mechanisms to warn the user of significant changes in the current page's context triggered by a link. This could include alerts or messages that are announced to screen reader users.
  5. Review the site's navigation to identify links that change the context unexpectedly and provide the necessary indications or modifications to prevent confusion and enhance predictability.

Guidance on managing changes in content and context can be found at WCAG Quick Reference on On Focus and WCAG Quick Reference on On Input.

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