The value of including PDF and other types of download indicators on hyperlinks

When it comes to link text the W3C recommendations say: “clearly identify the target of each link” to aid users in deciding weather they want to follow a link or not. A well written article about Links and accessibility goes into more detail about giving all users the context to decide by including description text and download indicators.

Usability testing has shown that site visitors hate unexpected downloads. When there’s no text indication on whether a hyperlink goes to another webpage or downloads a file, visitors can end up downloading a huge file eating up their mobile data allowance and taking focus away from what they were doing.  That Links and Accessibility article recommends that the type of download and size be indicated in parentheses after the hyperlink text to aid people on whether or not to follow the link. For example a descriptive link could look like:
Another technique is to add a PDF or Word icon instead of the text of a download link, but it’s important to make sure the icon has descriptive ALT text. Icons added via CSS or other automated techniques can be missed by people user screen readers.
That Links and Accessibility article I reference in this post probably has the best description about why it’s important to let site visitors know what content a link goes to. It also describes why empty links are a bad practice, a link with no text at all gives no context to non-visual users on what the link is for or where it goes.
At Ohio State, a former Arts & Science web CMS contributor trainer (Drupal trainer) from ACS Communications recommended adding PDF indicators on hyperlinks in her adding links accessibility training video on YouTube. Unfortunately the importance of adding ‘(PDF)’ on hyperlinks it’s well known and many significant web projects have over looked it. By researching and writing about this topic I’m attempting to educate others and perhaps make the web a little more usable.
Here are some other accessibility resources from  ACS Communications:
Wild, Gian. Links and Accessibility. AccessibilityOz, 2014. Available at:

Fixing empty links that find their way into websites

It’s easy to correct missing alt tags on images but some accessibility errors, like empty links,  are more mysterious and ease to overlook. Sometime copying and pasting new code, such as code for social icons or links from a 3rd party, can unwittingly bring in empty links into a website.

I thought my website was mostly free from errors but I looked again (using the WAVE tool from WebAIM) and found that some new social icons that had been added actually were empty links. To fix these I added descriptive link text between the opening and close <a> tags and visually hid the text with a CSS class. That way my social icons still looked the visually the same but included actual text aiding non-visual users context to know what the links are about. 

This Links & Accessibility article also says “do not have broken or empty links” because having an empty links give no context to allow a screen reader user to know what the link is about. Sometimes designers make an empty link visually to look like a button by adding a background image via CSS styles.
I recently noticed that the website of a computing center at a major university had several empty links in their website header and footer. The university’s logo was an empty link because instead of the logo being an inline image, it was actually a background image, added through CSS, on a empty <a> tag. To fix this empty link error they could add “ACME University” link text and visually hide it for sighted users, if desired. Then a screen reader user could still have context to know what the link is for and the page could have the visual look desired by marketers.

Ohio State Drupal Users Group Meeting – March 22, 2018

The Ohio State Drupal Users Group is having its March 2018 meeting in 141 Sullivant Hall (the Collaboratory) on Thursday, March 22, 2018, 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. One of the topics of discussion with be Drupal site hosting, which will probably get into hosting on cloud platforms like Pantheon or Acquia. The university also runs a hosting service that’s available for Ohio State Colleges and Departments to use. The OCIO hosting service offers some Drupal-specific information about installing, backing up, and restoring Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 websites. In Drupal 8, drush commands can be used to create backups and migrate a site from a development account to a production account. Cloud hosting services, like Pantheon or Acquia, also offer DEv, Test, and Live (production) environments and methods to move (deploy) site data between them.


There is a Sullivant Hall Collaboratory and Rotunda Reservation Request form available that other groups from the university can use to reserve that space.