Descriptive links are weblinks disguised as descriptive text that is clicked on to go to the place described. For instance, in “Look for books in our Library Catalog” the word “catalog” is a descriptive link.
Descriptive hyperlinks are especially important for people with visual impairments using screen reading software, and how they are constructed is critical since links are read aloud to the user, along with all the other text on a webpage. A lot of links are made with URLs that contain combinations of numbers, letters, ampersands, dashes, underscores, and other characters that make sense to scripts and databases but which make little or no sense to the average person.
In most cases, it is better to use human-readable text instead of a URL. For example, the human-readable link Constructing Accessible Web Sites is more user-friendly than the link to the book by the same title on worldcat.org, which consists of a 101-character link full of numbers, slashes, and text that is not very human-readable (https://www.worldcat.org/title/constructing-accessible-web-sites/oclc/263579159?referer=di&ht=edition).
Folks tend to use the entire URL as a link if they think someone might be printing the document or if they believe the URL has relevant content. Be careful with this. If it is necessary for the page to be printed it might be easier for everyone to have the content available for printing in a different format or to use a plugin that prints the page out and automatically exposes the full URL.
Does this mean that URLs should never be used as links? No. Relatively short URLs (such as a site’s homepage), may be used as the link text, just be mindful and think about having to hear every letter spelled out. The key is to be considerate of screen reader users who must listen to the longer, less intelligible URLs.
Another thing to consider are phrases like, “Click the blue square button on the bottom of the page.” Do not use descriptions that rely only on sight. Phrases like “Click here,” “Here,” “More,” “More information,” “Read more,” and “Continue” are also inadequate. Use informative, descriptive phrases. Describe as concisely as possible where the link will take you or what following the link will do.
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Let’s continue talking about the other things that content creators need to do to ensure accessibility. The next post in this series on accessibility will be on color contrast and the size of text. Once we integrate best practices for accessibility into our everyday work online, we can look at some further design aspects that can really make our websites a pleasure to use for everyone.