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Designing Easy Navigation Menus for Motor Impairments

By November 29, 2023December 2nd, 2023No Comments4 min read

As web developers, ensuring accessible navigation across our websites and apps is key for allowing equal access for users with disabilities. One commonly overlooked area is making menus easy to operate for those with motor impairments that limit dexterity or fine movement ability. With a global motor disability population estimated over 1 billion, optimizing menus stands to vastly improve site functionality for a huge demographic. By learning a few straightforward menu design best practices with this group in mind, we can foster greater inclusive web experiences for all.

Outline Easy Impairments that Impact Navigation Ability 

Users with cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, arthritis, ALS and multiple sclerosis are disproportionately affected by navigation elements requiring precise, steady cursor control or complex sequential actions. Things like hover-triggered expanding dropdowns, small tightly clustered links demanding accuracy navigating between options all prove challenging for those lacking nimble fine motor skills. Understanding how these groups engage with interfaces differently allows developers to empathize and optimize accordingly. Minor changes can lift barriers that currently exclude users from effectively accessing content.

Use Big Click Zones with Padding

Links and buttons as the core of navigation should have generous padding surrounding text or icons for enlarging click zones. Items that are too small or crowded force difficult precision, easily frustrating users and limiting ability to engage. Along with increased text size for low vision accessibility, extra padding between navigation elements maximizes selectable target area. Links spaced comfortably apart with click targets of at least 1/2 inch square reduce accidental selection errors during browsing for easier stress-free use.  

Minimize Complex Mouse/Cursor Interactions 

Since hovering, dragging and multi-click menus overly tax users with shaky hands or unreliable grip control, simplified single click navigation works best. Hover states that make secondary menus temporarily appear should be avoided where possible or offer alternative access. Features to non-visually preview menus on demand through individual button presses can support on-click expand behaviors for those unable to hold steady hover position. Eliminating unnecessary complexity in what navigation demands of users makes menus reliably usable.

Provide Hard Targets Not Relying on Precision 

Making navigation elements clearly defined targets instead of tightly packed links relying on careful cursor movement to discern one from another assists motor impaired users immensely. Techniques like visibly outlined buttons with defined shapes, underlined links and sufficient surrounding whitespace ease navigation uncertainty. Developing easy pathfinding through clear spatial separation minimizes fatigue for those lacking fine movement precision. Navigation should bring content to users easily instead of demanding strained effort.  

Use Skip Navigation Links or Headings Menus 

For long menus like extended site header navigation, skip links allow immediately jumping deep into main content past long listings. This helps users avoid arduous tabbing through elements to reach sections relevant for their needs. Along with skip links that facilitate faster access, providing a separate on-page menu of headings lets users navigate site structure through main areas as an alternate. Multi-tiered menus may be visually engaging but demanding to traverse without shortcuts. Offering either/both skip source links or heading reference menus are hugely helpful.

Strive For Single-Page Simplicity Where Possible

Keeping navigation architecture consolidated by limiting pages makes browsing more straightforward for those who find excessive menu options and page changes disorienting. When able to contain most relevant sections in one long-scrolling flexible page using expanding accordions, tabs and anchored links, it keeps hard target areas persistently available upfront. Content grouped logically through hooks visible on a single surface makes for more reassuring experience accessing pieces without navigating away through convoluted directory trees. Achieving this level of simplified access may not always be possible but remains an ideal goal for disability inclusion.

By being conscientious of making navigation uncomplicated, low-strain and simply structured, developers enable millions of motor impaired users better opportunity to access content. Treating cursor ability as a privileged skill by ensuring interfaces work well for all reduces exclusionary burdens faced disproportionately. Just as proper color contrast and alt text measures improve accessibility in other realms, so do purposeful menu adjustments to ease navigation barriers improve site-wide access immensely.

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