Crow's Nest Icon: SeaMonster red ship with white sales and a crow's nest sailing on a grey sea

Context

People who come to your site should all have as easy a time navigating your menu as possible. Probably, though, the menu has been built with mouse-navigation in mind, which is fine for all the mouse navigators out there, but can be rather unpleasant for anyone trying to get around without a mouse, for example by using the keyboard tab key.

Hopefully any dropdowns in your menu drop down when someone tabs into them while navigating the page with the keyboard. If it doesn’t, you should fix that; it can be a serious roadblock for your visitors. If your dropdowns are activated by both the mouse and keyboard, though, you may still not be serving your keyboard navigators as well as you might.

If you have between five and ten links, total, in your menu (including both primary and secondary items), then tabbing through all of those isn’t very much of a hardship, and things are probably okay. If you have many more than ten to tab through, though, this could be rather frustrating.

What the plugin does

By installing and setting up this plugin, you give your keyboard-navigating visitors a view of the menu from the crow’s nest: They will be able to use their right and left arrow keys to navigate your horizontal menu, and the down and up keys to navigate your dropdowns only if there’s a menu option there they want.

With this ability, they can swing right down into the menu option they want rather than having to tab all the way through all of the dropdowns to get through your menu, which is the default way keyboard navigation would leave it. This makes your site a much more welcoming place to anyone who wants to get around it using only the keyboard.

What the plugin doesn’t do

This plugin does not make it so that tabbing onto a dropdown menu will make it drop down. Without this ability, adding arrow navigation to the menu doesn’t make much sense. You should first add the styles (or javascript in some cases) to make your menus drop down on focus rather than just on hover, and then set this plugin up.

Who can benefit

Although it may seem like the number of people who navigate your site using their keyboard may be relatively small, it might be larger than you think. People with disabilities of limited mobility or dexterity are important to serve, of course, but they may only make up a small portion of your visitors that might benefit from this feature.

People with broken hands, or broken mice or trackpads may find navigating by keyboard easier or the only viable option. People with tremors from disability or old age may not be able to manipulate a mouse precisely enough to be able to select the menu item they want, or people with limited vision may not be able to see the small mouse pointer well enough to get it in just the right spot to click what they want.

There may even be some computer power users who just prefer to do everything by keyboard who might appreciate this feature.

Who can’t benefit

Everybody, if you don’t install it! But truly, there is a group of people who will not benefit from adding this feature. Mouse users won’t benefit, but they also won’t be bothered by it, or probably ever even find out about it: the only way to find out about it is by tabbing into the main menu and then reading the notice that pops up telling that visitors can move through the menu with their arrow keys.

Where to get it

You can install Crow’s Nest by searching for it in the Wordpress plugin store, or by following this link to the Crow’s Nest plugin directly.

Extra Reading