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RE: Access Keys - your collective help is urgently requested!

From: Jukka Korpela <jukka.korpela@tieke.fi>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 16:24:28 +0300
Message-ID: <621574AE86FAD3118D1D0000E22138A95BDE50@TIEKE1>
To: Aware-Techniques <aware-techniques@hwg.org>, Webaim-Forum <webaim-forum@list.webaim.org>, w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

John Foliot wrote:

> - -a large group of institutional developers have
> been recommended to implement a series of "Standardized" Access Keys
> assigned to "Skip Nav" functionality across multiple web 
> sites.  - - they have recommended 
> the use of "Alt+1" and "Alt+2".  Users of IBM's Home Page Reader may 
> recognise these as being  "Alt+1 = Headings Reading Mode" and
> "Alt+2 = Text View".

This is a mess.

> It's a mess.

It's a frustrating mess.

I had thought, and the consensus of some discussion has been, as far as I
know, that using digit keys as access keys is the safest way to avoid
clashes with browsers' built-in shortcuts. I had even documented and
recommended such usage:

I hadn't used IBM HPR enough to have noted the problem. How serious is it in
practice? How often are those shortcuts used, and are there alternative ways
of doing what they do?

> Current thinking is to move to "Alt+X", Alt+Y" and Alt+Z"

I'm afraid any letters as access keys are reserved by one or (probably) more
programs for some use. But if you're going to use letters, then those
letters at the end of the English alphabet presumably have less use than
others, just because it's more difficult to treat them as mnemonic in any
way. (Well, X could be eXit, Y might be Yank, Z might be Zoom. Actually,
Opera seems to use Alt+X and Alt+Z for moving within the history list; don't
ask me why.)

It is virtually impossible to test all the browsers, since the shortcut
assignments vary even between different language versions. And it is not
sufficient to consider shortcuts in assistive technology. The great majority
of users use browsers that have some support to access keys, and this means
that some built-in shortcuts will be overridden _without the users even
knowing_ before they try to use some shortcut they are familiar with and
observing something strange.

For "Skip Nav", are access keys needed at all? Isn't it sufficient that
there is a link to the start of the main content, or otherwise past the
navigation? It could be a "visually hidden" link, i.e. a transparent
single-pixel GIF with something like
alt="Main content of the page."
Such links have their problems, but I'd say that they are, as a whole, more
tolerable than the harmful side effects of access keys.

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser 
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Diffuse Business Guide to Web Accessibility and Design for All:

Received on Friday, 13 September 2002 09:25:01 UTC

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