Accessible interactions (on Adactio)

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Jeremy Keith takes us through his thought process regarding the choice of link or button when planning accessible interactive disclosure elements.

A button is generally a solid choice as it’s built for general interactivity and carries the expectation that when activated, something somewhere happens. However in some cases a link might be appropriate, for example when the trigger and target content are relatively far apart in the DOM and we feel the need move the user to the target / give it focus.

For a typical disclosure pattern where some content is shown/hidden by an adjacent trigger, a button suits perfectly. The DOM elements are right next to each other and flow into each other so there’s no need to move or focus anything.

However in the case of a log-in link in a navigation menu which—when enhanced by JavaScript—opens a log-in form inside a modal dialogue, a link might be better. In this case you might use an anchor with a fragment identifier (<a href="#login-modal">Log in</a>) pointing to a login-form far away at the bottom of the page. This simple baseline will work if JavaScript is unavailable or fails, however when JavaScript is available we can intercept the link’s default behaviour and enhance things. Furthermore because the expectation with links is that you’ll go somewhere and modal dialogues are kinda like faux pages, the link feels appropriate.

While not explicit in the article, another thing I take from this is that by structuring your no-JavaScript experience well, this will help you make appropriate decisions when considering the with-JavaScript experience. There’s a kind of virtuous circle there.

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