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Many routing packages for React don’t include any sort of focus management out of the box (including the most popular, React Router). This means that after a route change the browser’s focus will linger on the most recently focused element, even if that element is no longer in the DOM. This can be confusing for users who are navigating using a screen reader and/or their keyboard.

If you’re starting a new React project that requires routing, you may want to consider using Reach Router, which gives you focus management for free. From their docs:

Reach Router provides out-of-the-box focus management so your apps are significantly more accessible without you breaking a sweat.

When the location changes, the top-most part of your application that changed is identified and focus is moved to it.

However, if you’re stuck with some other routing package then you will have to roll your own focus management. There are many ways to do this, but there is some consensus that the best way to handle SPA route changes is to move focus to the new page’s heading, in other words the h1 tag.

When we move focus to the h1 we do two things to help users:

  1. We move focus to the top of the new page’s content, ideally after any navigation or page chrome that may be redundant. We ensure that focus is not left lingering on some possibly irrelevant or likely non-existent DOM element from the previous page.
  2. We prompt screen readers to announce the new page’s title.

By default, h1 is not a focusable element, but we can make any HTML element focusable using the tabindex attribute (in React, we must write this as tabIndex).

Then, to focus the element, we just need to add a one-line useEffect hook that focuses the h1 on mount using a ref.

Altogether, the component looks like this in TypeScript:

import React, { useEffect, useRef } from 'react';

 * A wrapper for h1 that focuses on mount. Useful as a page heading to
 * reset focus after a route change. See
 * https://jshakespeare.com/accessible-route-change-react-router-autofocus-heading/
export default function FocusablePageHeading(props: {
  children: React.ReactNode;
}) {
  const el = useRef<HTMLHeadingElement>(null);
  useEffect(() => el.current?.focus(), []);

  return (
    <h1 tabIndex={-1} ref={el}>

Then replace your existing usages of h1 with the component, e.g. <FocusablePageHeading>My great page</FocusablePageHeading>.

And that’s it! Note that we don’t need to do anything fancy to make the h1 unfocusable after it is blurred. That’s because although we give the element a tabindex attribute to make it focusable programmatically, because its value is -1 the user will be unable to re-focus it with the Tab key once it is blurred.

Further reading