Are "QuickLinks" dropdown lists accessible?

DO-IT Factsheet #1264

A growing number of websites in higher education and elsewhere use a "QuickLinks" form field, a single drop down list of links that takes the user immediately to a selected link without requiring that the user press a submit button. These form fields are not accessible. A standard HTML list box allows users to navigate up and down through the list using the arrow keys on the keyboard. People who can't use a mouse due to a visual impairment or physical disability depend on this keyboard functionality. "QuickLinks" fields automatically select the first field that a user arrows to, and activate that link. Therefore, the user is unable to scroll down any farther in the list. In fact, users can actually navigate the list using Alt+down arrow; however, few users are aware of this since it is not standard navigation for an HTML form.

Also, "QuickLinks" form fields work by executing a small Javascript® function, triggered by the onSelect event (when a user "selects" an item from the list). They are therefore dependent on Javascript. If the user has scripts disabled, the dropdown list will be displayed, but none of the links will work.

The solution is to always provide a Submit button, and to avoid using onSelect or onChange events in dropdown lists. The resultant "QuickLinks" form will require one extra click or keystroke for users, but that is a small price to pay for assuring that all users have access.

For additional information, see the AccessIT Knowledge Base articles How do scripting languages affect accessibility? [1] and How can I develop accessible web-based forms? [2]