Joe Clarks comments on TABINDEX from August 17

I just finished reading Joe Clark's complaint about changing tabindex:

Although I explained this at the Face to Face meeting, there is a
fundamental accessibility problem with HTML. Only form and anchor elements
can receive focus. This is due to how we documented the DOM spec. for
browsers. That said, all elements in HTML may received mouse events yet the
HTML specification does not allow all elements to receive keyboard focus.
This is an accessibility problem of monumental proportions because it means
you can do things with the mouse that you cannot do with the keyboad. That
should concern everyone on this list.

We tried to fix this problem with a change to the DOM specification but
there was no DOM working group in place and despite our best efforts one is
not going to be created.
This is one of the main reasons that DHTML applications are not accessible
as they should be. HTML makes it impossible for them to make these rich
applications accessible.

To fix the problem we leveraged a feature in IE where the TABINDEX is used
to set focus to these other elements without impacting the tab order. We
implemented this in IE. This one feature allows us to reproduce the
accessibility and usability of the GUI and does not force the user to tab
everywhere to get access to information. This an extreme usability problem.

In response to Joe's comments at the face to face we have put resources at
extending XHTML to incorporate these features with a new W3C DTD for
validation. We are working with browser manufacturers like Mozilla to adopt
the change so that this feature is now supported on over 96% of the
browsers used today. We are also working with other browser manufacturers
to get the rest of the 100%.

While we address accessibility today it is very important that we also
address usability. The keyboard accessibility solution is to make virtually
everything a link to receive focus. When people create GUIs today one of
the most serious usability problems is placing everything in the tab order.
This is why we have mnemonics like alt+f for file. This is why we tab to
spreadsheets and use the arrow keys for navigation.

Hopefully this clears things up. At the end of the day you can actually
have a more accessible and usable solution and we are working to create
something that may be validated. We are also working with Freedom
Scientific and GW Micro to ensure we have an interoperable solution. We
will be talking to other AT vendors as part fo the WAI/PF effort.



Rich Schwerdtfeger
Distinguished Engineer, SWG Accessibility Architect/Strategist
Emerging Technologies
Chair, IBM Accessibility Architecture Review  Board
blog:, Phone: 512-838-4593,T/L: 678-4593, mobile: 512-876-9689

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.",

Received on Thursday, 25 August 2005 21:41:49 UTC