Keyboard navigation problems in IE and Safari

In Keyboard Navigation and Internet Explorer, Gez Lemon takes a closer look at Internet Explorer’s problems with in-page navigation and suggests possible solutions. The discussion in the comments to the article provides some answers and alternative solutions.

While reading the article I found the problem familiar. Then it occurred to me that Safari has similar issues with keyboard navigation. After following an internal link, pressing the tab key makes Safari continue navigating from the link you just followed. The obvious action would be to move focus to the first link after the target of the internal link.

You can try it right here on this site. Press the tab key until “Skip to main content” is displayed (the first link on the page). Press the Return key to jump to the main content. Then press the tab key. Instead of moving focus to the first link in the main content area, Safari moves it to the next link after “Skip to main content”, which is “Skip to secondary content (sidebar)”.

Pretty unexpected and not very useful, wouldn’t you say? Extremely confusing when you try navigating the page with VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader in Mac OS X.

I tested changing the link target to a named anchor instead of an element id, thinking that may work better. Nope. Same behaviour.

Firefox and other browsers based on Gecko get it right, as does Opera.

What do you think? Is Safari somehow doing the right thing or should I send Apple a bug report?

Posted on September 17, 2005 in Accessibility, Browsers, Browsers


  1. Bug report please ? The more the better.

    I’ve sent one on the subject some time ago, long before the Webkit Bugzilla. I haven’t gotten around to file a bug in there.

  2. Olá, tudo bem ?

    Eu acesso o seu síte sempre que posso, trabalho com padrões web, gosto muito das matérias que vc escreve.

    Um grande abraço,

    Fernando Mansur

  3. September 18, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Philippe: Ok, will send a bug report.

    Fernando: I’m sorry, I don’t speak Portuguese :-) After running the text through Google Translate I think I get the gist of your message though. Thanks!

  4. hi, Fernando meant to say:

    “hi, how are you?

    I’ve got to access your website everytime that i can, i work with webstandards, and i like your articles very much.

    a big hug,

    Fernando Mansur”

    that’ s it.

  5. Regarding your “Skip to main content” link, well, do you really suspect such a large font size absolutely necessary (“prominent” must not inevitably mean “large”)? For people using a screenreader or a text browser, font size does not matter here. And for people really needing a larger font size, well, they won’t be able to read such a big font when they already scaled your site font ;)

  6. September 19, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    henrique: Thanks, Google Translate did a pretty good job then!

    Jens: Not really necessary, no. So I’ll probably make it a bit smaller. :-)

  7. Slightly unrelated, but still a keyboard navigation problem in Safari… Safari drives me mad when I’m using the tab buton to navigate a form and it skips right past any drop-down fields, as if they don’t exist.

    I’ve been wrestling with this for over a year and have never seen a solution for it. A typical example would be any standard address (US version) form, you know: address (textbox), city (textbox), state (dropdown), zip (textbox).

    You’ll never get focus (with the keyboard) to the state dropdown, no matter what you do.

  8. September 19, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Justin: You need to change the “Full keyboard access” setting in the System Preferences / Keyboard & Mouse preference panel. You probably have it set to “Text boxes and lists only”. Change it to “All controls” and you should be able to tab to select boxes.

    Or just try pressing Ctrl + F7, which is the shortcut for toggling that preference.

  9. Wow Roger, thank you!

    “Text boxes and lists only”

    What is a list if it’s not a drop-down? Do you have any idea what the reasoning behind not allowing the user to tab-focus on a drop-down is by default? I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that? That behavior is not seen in any other browser, wtf Safari?

    ugh. That’s just stupid.

  10. Sweet, thank you for asking that question, fellow Justin, and thanks for answering it Roger! i searched google for precisly that question and this was number 4!

  11. Did you submit a bug report about this? If so could you post the link to it please - the search on the bugzilla page is horrible ;(

  12. December 5, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Rebecca: Yes I did, but I used Safari’s built-in bug reporting instead of Bugzilla, so I can’t link to it. Maybe one day I’ll get around to signing up for a Bugzilla account…

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