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Accessibility: Links

Screen readers and links

There are requirements when constructing links to make them accessible.  It's helpful to know a little about how screen readers work to understand and remember them.

Rather than reading a full screen left to right, top to bottom, most screen readers first read only the links. This helps users quickly navigate to relevant pages.  Reading links first is a setting based on the user's personal preference, but it tends to be the standard. It is the equivalent of a sighted user scanning the page to orient themselves to it.

Screen readers read links in order, reading only the linked text. Due to this, links must make sense out of context.  Usually, the screen reader reads the links without the surrounding text.

In Springshare products, the screen readers reads column by column, starting with any box below the page navigation in the left column. Then it moves on to the next column to the right. 

URLs are not used as links

Do not use exposed URLs (the complete URL with the http://...) which are bad for those using screen readers and ugly for everyone else.

Instead, create a text-based link that describes the content of the link.

Note: Never make the link text bold, italicized, a different color, or alter the text formatting in any way. Link formatting is managed through the website style sheet.


The one exception to embedding URLs in text is to emphasize a short, easy-to-read web address such as Writing out the URL can help people to remember the address, but this should be done intentionally and sparingly.


For example:

Ugly exposed URL:

Pretty embedded URL:  Register: Mobilize and Organize Your Job Search webinar

Link purpose can be determined from the link text alone

Because of the way screen readers work, link text needs to make sense without any context except that provided by:

  • the link text
  • immediately surrounding text
  • preceding link
  • preceding header​


In order for the link to make sense without the surrounding text, the link text needs to clearly indicate what type of resource someone will see when they click on that link. Is the link going to a specific resource? Say so with the link text. Is the link going to a place with instructions on how to do something? Indicate this in the link text.

There are three basic rules to follow when creating link text:

  1. The link text is clear, simple, and as short as possible. 
  2. When the link goes to a specific, named resource, the link text is the resource title.
  3. The link text accurately describes the resource.



Named Resources

The destination of these links is exactly what you would expect, the named resource.

WaldenU website

Google Scholar

Writing Center


Named resource, incorrectly used

Learn more about Google Scholar.

Problem: Based on the link text, you'd assume the link goes to the Google Scholar website. But the link goes to a resource about Google Scholar.


Unclear links

There is no way to tell where these links go when the context is removed (as with a screen reader).


full text

watch the video


Use short, clear, descriptive phrases with an action verb: 

In these examples, it is clear what each link's destination is from the link text alone:

View upcoming webinar schedules.

Learn how to get the full text of an article.



The link text accurately reflects the resource.

You can connect Google Scholar to Walden Library

Problem: The link text implies clicking it will set up your Scholar Preferences automatically, or take you to that Google Scholar page. Instead, the link goes to directions on setting up Google Scholar.


Tip: To make sure your link text phrase actually makes sense grammatically and uses an accurate verb, ask yourself this:

"Does this link really [action verb phrase from link]?" 

So for the example "You can connect Google Scholar to Walden Library," ask "Does this link really connect Google Scholar to the Walden Library?"

No, it doesn't. So you need to change the link text to convey what the link actually does. It actually helps someone learn how to connect Google Scholar to the Walden Library.  Rewrite the link as:

Learn how to connect Google Scholar to the Walden Library.

Now when we check the link, it works.  Does this link really (help me) learn how to connect Google Scholar to the Walden Library?  Yes, yes it does.

Links to documents or files identify the file type in the link text

Any link to a non-HTML resource (documents, videos, etc.) must denote the resource type in the link. The link text is the only way to indicate to those using screen readers that the link is to a file and not a web page.  It is also notifies users that the file opens in a new program, which is helpful for computer newbies, some learning disabilities, and everyone else.


No links with the same text goes to different locations.

Links to different URLs should never use the same text.  Examples of problematic text are:

  • More Information

  • See also

  • Register for the webinar

Videos and Video Archives Exception

You don't need to include the video title in video resource links such as transcripts or slide decks provided the link is immediately proceeded by a link that includes the video title.

Video: Self-Knowledge Tools:  Enhance Your Competitive Edge


Slide Deck

Links on a page or a guide that go to the same URL have the same text

Links within a "set" of web pages (website, guide, page) that go to the same URL have the same link text.  Be consistent with link text across websites.

Links do not have mouseover/hover text

Link and image titles (mouseovers/hover text) are banned from all Springshare systems. This includes linked screenshots and video dummy images. The reasons are:

  • Screen readers do not read link titles by default or in link-reading mode.
  • Mouseover text is not accessible via keyboard.
  • Mouseover text isn't useful on mobile devices.  

The link text itself must convey all the important information. You may include additional descriptive information after the link. For example:

Link to webinar

Webinar Description

Warning: The title attribute (from W3C)


Links open in the same window

Links open in the same window.  The only exceptions are:

  • links in multi-step directions or
  • links moving from a secure to a non-secure site

There are a few accessibility issues with opening links in a new browser window.  First, this is a problem for screen readers.  Newer screen readers notify the user that a link has opened in a new window; older screen readers may not.  In addition, if the user isn't paying close attention, they may miss the notification and have no idea where the link went.  

Opening a link in a new window may also be problematic for users with some cognitive disabilities.  They may not realize the link has opened in a new window and may not know how to get back to the previous window.  This can be troublesome for those unfamiliar with browsers as well.​

WCAG: G200: Opening new windows and tabs from a link only when necessary

Links that open in a new window indicate that in the link text

If a link opens in a new window, that information must be included in the link text. 

Academic Search Complete (opens in new window)

Google Scholar (opens in a new window)

Links that point to an external site indicate that in the link text

Unless already obvious to the average reader from the link text, the link text must indicate when the user is leaving the current website.



Not Obvious