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Presenting information about access key assignments

From: Jukka Korpela <jukka.korpela@tieke.fi>
Date: Thu, 25 Jul 2002 11:47:56 +0300
Message-ID: <621574AE86FAD3118D1D0000E22138A95BDD8B@TIEKE1>
To: "'WAI IG'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

(I think the topic has got so far from 'Invisible "Skip navigation" link'
that a change in the Subject was useful. Access key assignments could be
useful for "Skip navigation" links too, but we seem to be discussing the
access key issue generally.) 

RUST Randal wrote:

> So I should add the TITLE attribute, with the access key defined 
> inside of it?

I wouldn't do that.

> <input type="submit" accesskey="a" id="add" name="add" 
> >title="Add Employee.
> >>Access Key = a. " value="Add Employee" />

What is the assumed gain? First, let's remember that the title attribute is
for an advisory title that _might_ be presented to the user somehow. In a
tooltip box, as a whisper, something. Maybe. Anything that the user _needs_
to know (or at least have access to) should be presented in some other way.

In this case in particular, the information about access key assignments is
something that the user would use in order to get to the field. It's not
particularly useful to have an advisory title that might be presented to him
_after_ he got there somehow! (It might be of some use, if the user
frequently visits this particular page - he might wish to use the access key
in future visits.)

Or should we assume that using the access key _submits_ the form, instead of
just _focusing_ on submit button? It would be rather natural to interpret
that it should indeed:
"Pressing an access key assigned to an element gives focus to the element.
The action that occurs when an element receives focus depends on the
element. For example, when a user activates a link defined by the A element,
the user agent generally follows the link. When a user activates a radio
button, the user agent changes the value of the radio button. When the user
activates a text field, it allows input, etc."
This seems to say implicitly that "giving focus" automagically causes some
"activation", intentionally leaving it more or less open what "activation"
means in each case.

The specification should be clarified quite a lot as regards to the
semantics. But I'm afraid there's little hope; the work is oriented towards

Testing just on Netscape 6.1, Opera 6.0, and IE 5.5, all on Win98, I found:
- Opera doesn't support access keys
- IE focuses on a link when an access key is used but does not follow the
link (hitting "Enter" is needed), and it submits a form if an access key for
the submit button is used
- Netscape follows a link when an access key is used, and it does not do
anything (not even focus) if an access key for the submit button is used.

Confusing enough? Further confusion can be caused if users see the "tooltip"
texts referring to access keys but access keys don't actually work.

Besides, if a page makes "a" an access key for something on the page, then
this may well mask out a built-in feature of the browser in practice,
perhaps something that the user is well used to and that he uses frequently.
It would be rather distracting if you are accustomed to, say, using Alt-a to
Add a page to a bookmark list, and then one day you note that on some page,
it submitted a form that you hadn't quite filled out yet.

As you can see, I'm rather pessimistic about the usefulness of access keys.
I've explained some problems more in my (fairly old)

The _need_ for access keys (in some sense) is obvious. There are many
reasons why pages should be made useable using keyboard only and no mouse,
and in a convenient way. But the accesskey attributes don't seem to help in
solving the problem very well. But if you use them, the assignments should
be described separately, not in title attributes or relying on underlining
or other small hints. And I would recommend using just _digits_ for access
keys, with digit 0 acting as access key to a document that describes the
other assignments.

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Phone: +358 9 4763 0397 Fax: +358 9 4763 0399 
Received on Thursday, 25 July 2002 04:45:08 GMT

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