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Understanding SC 3.2.1:On Focus (Level A)

In Brief

Content can be navigated more predictably.
What to do
Do not change a user's context when items get focus.
Why it's important
Content that behaves predictably is especially important to people with disabilities.

Success Criterion (SC)

When any user interface component receives focus, it does not initiate a change of context.


The intent of this Success Criterion is to ensure that functionality is predictable as visitors navigate their way through a document. Any component that is able to trigger an event when it receives focus must not change the context. Examples of changing context when a component receives focus include, but are not limited to:

  • forms submitted automatically when a component receives focus;
  • new windows launched when a component receives focus;
  • focus is changed to another component when that component receives focus;

Focus may be moved to a control either via the keyboard (e.g. tabbing to a control) or the mouse (e.g. clicking on a text field). Moving the mouse over a control does not move the focus unless scripting implements this behavior. Note that for some types of controls, clicking on a control may also activate the control (e.g. button), which may, in turn, initiate a change in context.


What is meant by "component" here is also sometimes called "user interface element" or "user interface component".


  • This Success Criterion helps people with visual disabilities, cognitive limitations, and motor impairments by reducing the chance that a change of context will occur unexpectedly.


Example 1: A dropdown menu
A dropdown menu on a page allows users to choose between jump destinations. If the person uses the keyboard to move down to a choice and activates it (with a spacebar or enter key) it will jump to a new page. However, if the person moves down to a choice and either hits the escape or the tab key to move out of the pulldown menu – it does not jump to a new screen as the focus shifts out of the dropdown menu.
Example of a Failure: A help dialog
When a field receives focus, a help dialog window describing the field and providing options opens. As a keyboard user tabs through the Web page, the dialog opens, moving the keyboard focus away from the control every time the user attempts to tab past the field.


Each numbered item in this section represents a technique or combination of techniques that the WCAG Working Group deems sufficient for meeting this Success Criterion. However, it is not necessary to use these particular techniques. For information on using other techniques, see Understanding Techniques for WCAG Success Criteria, particularly the "Other Techniques" section.

Sufficient Techniques


A change of content is not always a change of context. This success criterion is automatically met if changes in content are not also changes of context.

Advisory Techniques

Although not required for conformance, the following additional techniques should be considered in order to make content more accessible. Not all techniques can be used or would be effective in all situations.


The following are common mistakes that are considered failures of this Success Criterion by the WCAG Working Group.

Key Terms

assistive technology

hardware and/or software that acts as a user agent, or along with a mainstream user agent, to provide functionality to meet the requirements of users with disabilities that go beyond those offered by mainstream user agents


Functionality provided by assistive technology includes alternative presentations (e.g., as synthesized speech or magnified content), alternative input methods (e.g., voice), additional navigation or orientation mechanisms, and content transformations (e.g., to make tables more accessible).


Assistive technologies often communicate data and messages with mainstream user agents by using and monitoring APIs.


The distinction between mainstream user agents and assistive technologies is not absolute. Many mainstream user agents provide some features to assist individuals with disabilities. The basic difference is that mainstream user agents target broad and diverse audiences that usually include people with and without disabilities. Assistive technologies target narrowly defined populations of users with specific disabilities. The assistance provided by an assistive technology is more specific and appropriate to the needs of its target users. The mainstream user agent may provide important functionality to assistive technologies like retrieving Web content from program objects or parsing markup into identifiable bundles.

changes of context

major changes that, if made without user awareness, can disorient users who are not able to view the entire page simultaneously

Changes in context include changes of:

  1. user agent;
  2. viewport;
  3. focus;
  4. content that changes the meaning of the Web page


A change of content is not always a change of context. Changes in content, such as an expanding outline, dynamic menu, or a tab control do not necessarily change the context, unless they also change one of the above (e.g., focus).


information and sensory experience to be communicated to the user by means of a user agent, including code or markup that defines the content's structure, presentation, and interactions


rendering of the content in a form to be perceived by users

  1. The way the parts of a Web page are organized in relation to each other; and
  2. The way a collection of Web pages is organized
user agent

any software that retrieves and presents Web content for users

user interface component

a part of the content that is perceived by users as a single control for a distinct function


Multiple user interface components may be implemented as a single programmatic element. "Components" here is not tied to programming techniques, but rather to what the user perceives as separate controls.


User interface components include form elements and links as well as components generated by scripts.


What is meant by "component" or "user interface component" here is also sometimes called "user interface element".


object in which the user agent presents content


The user agent presents content through one or more viewports. Viewports include windows, frames, loudspeakers, and virtual magnifying glasses. A viewport may contain another viewport (e.g., nested frames). Interface components created by the user agent such as prompts, menus, and alerts are not viewports.


This definition is based on User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 Glossary [[UAAG10]].

web page

a non-embedded resource obtained from a single URI using HTTP plus any other resources that are used in the rendering or intended to be rendered together with it by a user agent


Although any "other resources" would be rendered together with the primary resource, they would not necessarily be rendered simultaneously with each other.


For the purposes of conformance with these guidelines, a resource must be "non-embedded" within the scope of conformance to be considered a Web page.

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