Heading navigation in web browsers

All screen readers that I know of have keyboard shortcuts that allow the user to navigate within a web page by jumping from heading to heading. This can really speed things up when you want to skip to a particular section of a page.

Being able to navigate by headings would also be very useful to sighted people who do not use a mouse, but unfortunately very few web browsers offer this functionality. The only graphical web browser I know of that has such functionality built in is Opera, while Firefox can get it by way of an extension.

Opera

Like I said, Opera has heading navigation built in, though in the most recent versions of the browser you have to turn it on.

  1. Choose Opera > Preferences.
  2. Click Advanced.
  3. Select Shortcuts in the list of settings.
  4. Check the “Enable single-key shortcuts” checkbox.

After that you can use the W and S keys to navigate to the previous (W) or next heading (S) on the page.

See Use Opera without a mouse for a more in-depth tutorial about Opera’s keyboard navigation functionality.

Firefox + Greasemonkey

If you want to use Firefox and be able to navigate by headings, try Gez Lemon’s Heading Navigation Greasemonkey User Script. With the script (and Greasemonkey) installed, you can use H and Shift + H to step to the next or previous heading. You can also cycle through headings of a particular level by pressing a number key.

What about other browsers?

Not being a browser developer I have no idea if there are any technical reasons for the lack of support for heading navigation. Maybe it’s very difficult to implement and too few people are asking for it. It would be nice if all browsers had this functionality, but the options I have described here are the ones I am aware of.

Posted on March 22, 2010 in Accessibility, Browsers, Usability

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