W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > April to June 1999

Re: Access Keys for Accessibility. Uh oh!!!!

From: Alan Cantor <acantor@oise.utoronto.ca>
Date: Sun, 9 May 1999 01:03:56 -0400 (EDT)
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.SOL.3.91.990509000503.13718A-100000@tortoise>
> At least in Internet Explorer, it turns out that you can use all the letter
> keys for ACCESSKEY choices.   For example, if you have set an
> ACCESSKEY="f", to activate it you must press and hold the alt-key then
> press the f-key.  However, to activate the application/Windows "File" menu
> you can press and release the alt-key then press the f-key.  IE assumes
> that simultaneous contact means "do the ACCESSKEY" while sequential contact
> means "do the application menu". I don't know if this will follow for other
> browsers when they support ACCESSKEY, but Microsoft certainly got this one
> right.

This sounds scary. If ACCESSKEY works the way you describe, keyboard-only
access just became a lot more complex. In Windows, the behaviour of the
Alt key is terribly inconsistent already. These inconsistencies complicate
access to the point that I have actually seen people give up on keyboard
techniques in favour of techniques that take 10 or 20 times longer to
perform. Will ACCESSKEYs introduce yet another layer of complexity? 

In Windows, Alt sometimes works like a standard modifier key. For example,
to use Alt + F4 to close an application, you hold down Alt and press F4.
(If you cannot press keys simultaneously, you can use StickyKeys so that
the combo can be done sequentially.)

In other circumstances, Alt exhibits entirely different behaviour. To use,
for example, the System menu to close an application, you can either (1)
hold down Alt and press spacebar, then press C; or (2) press AND RELEASE
Alt, press spacebar, then press C. In other words, sometimes Alt works
like Ctrl or Shift; at other times it acts like a sticky key.

Having taught keyboard-only techniques to scores of people, I can tell you
that the inconsistent behaviour of the Alt key is a major source of
frustration for almost everyone... (and it is totally unnecessary... if
the "sticky" behaviour of the Alt key could be switched off, many access
problems would vanish.) It is very easy to inadvertently press the Alt
key, which moves focus to the menu bar (if there is one). In Office 97
products, focus on the menubar is indicated by a faint grey menu button on
a grey background, which of course is almost invisible. (It would restore
my faith in humanity if Microsoft were to fire the "genius" who developed
the invisible focus indicator!) Furthermore, for people using exotic
keyboards and/or interface boxes like the Darci Too or the Tash King, the
dual character of the Alt key creates additional problems. Both the Darci
and the Tash use their own sticky key software that lack vital features of
Windows StickyKeys, and in fact conflict with Windows StickyKeys. The
result: a keyboard-only user may have to press the Alt key 1, 2 or 3 (and
sometimes more) times to accomplish a task -- and keyboard-only access
becomes unpredictable. (I certainly cannot use keyboard-only techniques in
conjunction with a set-up using the Darci Too box or big TASH keyboard.)

I raise this issue to suggest that if ACCESSKEY is implemented without
regard to some of the limitations that Windows already enforces, ACCESSKEY
may, inadvertently, complicate keyboard-only access rather than simplify
it. And keyboard-only access to Windows is already tricky enough.

Some resource on keyboard-only access: I will discuss the accessibility of
the Windows keyboard-only interface during a presentation, on Friday 14
May, on Developers Day at WWW8 in Toronto. (I will post a paper on the
topic on my website next Friday.) I will facilitate a half-day "how-to"
workshop on keyboard-only access to Windows at RESNA at the end of June in
Long Beach. The following day, I will lead a full-day workshop on (in
part) creating workarounds to some of Windows' accessibilty bloopers -- at
least ones that occur in MS-Word.


Alan Cantor
Cantor + Associates
Workplace Accommodation Consultants
New e-mail address: acantor@interlog.com
Received on Sunday, 9 May 1999 01:04:05 UTC

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