Creating Accessible Popup Help with Dojo and ARIA

I thought I would create and ARIA example of Popup Help – turns out that is easier said than done. By Popup Help I mean a link or trigger element that is activated to display a block of help text that “floats” above the rest of the page. It seemed easy enough to implement until I started thinking about the features it should have:

  • Focus needs to go to the popup help so that it can be closed via the keyboard. Setting it to close after a certain amount of time is not sufficient since people will need differing amounts of time to read the text.
  • The popup needs to disappear when it loses focus or when the user clicks outside of the popup block. This means we need some sort of handler on the document to detect the click and close the popup. We need a close button or need to catch a press of the escape key to close the popup.
  • If the popup has focusable items, you may want to trap keyboard focus within the Popup until the user explicitly closes it. Or, at least close the popup when the user pressed tab with focus on the last focusable item in the Popup.
  • When the popup is closed, focus should go back to the trigger element.
  • The popup needs to placed appropriately relative to the trigger element. This means that if the trigger is close to an outer edge of the current window, it must be displayed towards the inside of window. In other words, to make sure the popup is placed appropriately, some calculations need to be done to make sure it is visible and not clipped.

At this point the Popup Help suddenly seem like alot of work. Then I thought, “Hey, Dojo has a widget that does all that! Why don’t I just use the TooltipDialog?”. It places the dialog appropriately, it traps focus within the dialog until the user closes it, and it can be closed via the escape key or by clicking outside of the dialog. And, it is already ARIA enabled.

However, the TooltipDialog is triggered via a Dojo DropDownButton and most people want Popup Help triggered via a link rather than a button. So, my first step was to restyle the trigger element to look like a link. Even though I’m no CSS whiz, I was able to accomplish that!

When a TooltipDialog becomes active, focus is set onto the first focusable item within the dialog. A screen reader will announce “dialog” and the dialog title and then the item with focus. Popup Help is often just text and may not have a focusable item. How am I going to get the screen reader to speak the Popup Help text when it is displayed? Well, ARIA has a role of alertdialog. If I set the role of the TooltipDialog to alertdialog, JAWS 10 will speak the text. Since the TooltipDialog is hard coded with a role of dialog, I had to catch the event when the dialog is shown and change the role. Not too hard with Dojo’s addOnLoad function and dojo.connect().

So, with a little modification I was able to use Dojo’s TooltipDialog to create accessible Popup Help. Here is the working Popup Help example with code snippets to demonstrate the changes I made. Why reinvent the wheel when the hard stuff has already been implemented?


About Becka11y

Web Accessibility Consultant with 30+ years in the software industry and 12+ years of direct accessibility innovation.

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