Blankety-blank _blanks

Once again, concerns over accessibility cause me to reverse one of this website’s oldest defaults.


Keeping one’s website as accessibility-friendly as possible is an ongoing task, and I’ve now taken another step in that direction.

Last time, it was using tabs instead of spaces for indents in my code, to make it easier for those with visual impairments to read and use it. This time, it’s not using target="_blank" to force each external link to open in a different browser tab/window. As of earlier today, that behavior is no longer wired into this site’s external links — and, to be safe, is also banished from all of my posts’ various code examples.

Why does it matter? Because using target="_blank" “breaks” a browser’s back button, and that turns out to be bad for less tech-savvy users (admittedly not so big a concern here) and very bad for the disabled. Quoting Andrew Phoenix’s 2012 article1, “Why External Links Should NOT Open in New Tabs”:

. . . [requiring] opening a new window commits one of the cardinal sins of Usability: DON’T BREAK THE BACK BUTTON. I’ve . . . done UX testing with people who have disabilities. The most frequently checked disability is sight loss; new tabs can present almost insurmountable problems to people who have poor sight. They cause confusion [and] frustration, and break the fundamental back button. The same is true for people who have cognition issues, or low sight, or manual dexterity issues. . . . Making the web accessible should be one of your highest priorities as a UX designer. Everyone needs to be able to do everything on the internet.2

Good enough. Done.

  1. Of course, there isn’t unanimity about this view — e.g., Anthony Theng’s piece (also from 2012), “Why External Links Should Open in New Tabs,” to which Phoenix’s article was a rebuttal. ↩︎

  2. I also gratefully acknowledge Daniel F. Dickinson’s 2021 article, “Accessible Design: No ‘_blank,’” which tipped me off to Phoenix’s (and Theng’s). ↩︎