Ashlee standing in front of a brick wall looking up to her left and smiling. Her right hand is held up near her right shoulder with the palm facing upwards.

Ashlee M Boyer

You can find me talking about issues surrounding Disability, Accessibility, & Mental Health on Twitter, or you can find me regularly live-knitting or live-coding on Twitch. I'm @AshleeMBoyer on all the platforms I use.

Accessible, Smooth Scroll-to-top Buttons with Little Code

Thursday, November 26, 20204 minute read


Scroll-to-top buttons are great for pages that are long enough to require a few scrolls to read everything. They're even better for extremely long pages. Scrolling is a lot of work for some users, especially on a mobile device. We (website creators) can greatly reduce the amount of work it takes to scroll our pages with surprisingly little effort on our part.

One example is the WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices, which is 140,923 pixels tall at the time of this writing. I'm not calling them out, it's just one of my favorite pages on the entire internet! It's a great resource for making accessible custom components.

Making a scroll-to-top button and making it scroll smoothly is probably a lot easier than you think. It's definitely a lot easier than I thought! The code bits I'm about to show are for React and SCSS, but you don't need to know either. The basic concepts here are for JavaScript and CSS. We'll also cover how to get rid of the smooth scrolling when it's an accessibility concern.

The SCSS Code

First, let's make sure this scroll will happen smoothly. To do so, set scroll-behavior to smooth in a global stylesheet under the html element. The media query I've added is for accessibility. Animations can be distracting or for some users, like myself, have vestibular disorders where animations can cause harmful physical effects. These effects can include dizziness, nausea, and headaches or migraines.

We can prevent this harm to these users who have set up their device to reduce motion by using the prefers-reduced-motion CSS media query. Inside of it, we set the scroll-behavior to auto, which is the default. If you'd like to read more about this technique, it's thoroughly covered in WCAG 2.1.

html {  scroll-behavior: smooth;   @media (prefers-reduced-motion: reduce) {    scroll-behavior: auto;  }}

The React Code

Now, add a button to the bottom of your page with lots of content. The important line of code here is window.scrollTo(0, 0). This is what will scroll your page to the top. You can read more about this function on MDN.

<button  onClick={() => {    window.scrollTo(0, 0);  }}>  Scroll to top</button>

Managing focus

Finally, we must also address focus management when adding a scroll-to-top button to our sites. If we add nothing else to our code from above, the button will still have focus after it is clicked. What this means for users who navigate pages with a keyboard is that the page's focus is not where they expect it to be. They expect it to be at the top of the page when it's not.

In your button's onClick listener, after window.scrollTo(0, 0), you need to manually put something at the top of your page in focus. In this article, for example, I can call focus on the <h1> element containing the article title. We just need to add one thing to that element in order for this to work without interrupting normal keyboard navigation. That thing is tabindex="-1".

My <h1> element will then look like this (in React):

<h1 id="article-title" tabIndex="-1">  Accessible, Smooth Scroll-to-top Buttons with Little Code</h1>

And here's what button will look like with this specific example:

<button  onClick={() => {    window.scrollTo(0, 0);     // focus management    const title = document.getElementById('article-title');    title.focus();  }}>  Scroll to top</button>


That's it! It really is just a few lines of code. After you add this, everyone will be able to quickly scroll to the top of your website. You've also made it so your site doesn't accidentally harm someone who can't tolerate animations! Well done. I am proud of you!