Keyboard Navigation

The Standards

Section 508 Standard:

  • Standard 1194.2 “When software is designed to run on a system that has a keyboard, product functions shall be executable from a keyboard where the function itself or the result of performing a function can be discerned textually.” (

WCAG 2.0 Guideline:

  • Guideline 2.1 Keyboard Accessible: “Make all functionality available from a keyboard.” (W3C)

What do the Standards Mean?

Keyboard accessibility means:

  • When assembling and/or creating websites, software, and multimedia, make sure users can navigate to and execute all the links, buttons and other interactive content using just keyboard commands. If a user has to use the mouse to fully interact with the resource then this standard is not met.
  • When using keyboard commands to navigate the resource, check for a logical and instinctual order of navigation.
  • For seeing individuals, it is clear when a link, button or another interactive element is selected because it has a border around it, a different background color or some other visual indicator.
  • If the resource has a large amount of content then it should have a “skip to main content” link.

It is important to make content accessible with the keyboard alone because not everyone can use a traditional mouse. The reasons are unique to the individual. If a user can fully interact with a resource using the keyboard alone then that gives access to the largest possible audience (W3C, “Keyboard Accessible:Understanding Guideline 2.1”).

Examples of resources that are frequently not fully keyboard accessible are:

  • Video players (especially Flash-based players)
  • Drag-and-drop activities and videos with quizzes or interactive games built into them
  • Some software and web applications

How do you Check for Keyboard Accessibility?

For most websites and software, users do not need a special software to check for keyboard accessibility. There is a simple way to test using just keyboard commands. Put away the mouse and use the following keyboard commands to navigate and to execute hyperlinks, buttons and other interactive elements in the resource.

Try to navigate through two popular websites using the following keyboard keys (without using the mouse) (WebAIM, “Keyboard Accessibility”).

  • Clicking TAB repeatedly allows you to navigate from button to button and from link to link.
  • Clicking SHIFT+TAB allows you to go back to the previous button or link.
  • Clicking the SPACEBAR, the return or the enter keys when a link or button is selected activates that link or button.

Note which features are accessible and which are not accessible. If not all content is accessible without using a mouse then that resource does not meet the standards and guidelines listed.