RE: Access Keys for Hyperlinks on Web Pages for the Visually Impaired

My good friend Charles McCathieNevile wrote:
(and we are friends - we have agreed to disagree on this topic)
> And, as John knows, I usually follow along saying "Actually, access
> keys are good, but the specification in HTML added a informative
> suggestion about invocation that was a dumb idea and led to lots of
> people finding the implementations were not very good".

...and as such, has rendered Accesskeys useless more often than not.
The single largest issue is the lack of conflict resolution in most
mainstream browsers (Opera and iCab not-withstanding). The *idea* of
accesskeys is great, their implementation stink.

Then there is the issue of mainstream usage: 10 of the 12 following
websites don't use accesskeys: (European Union official web site)

These 2 do: [1] [2]

[1] at the site, they've fouled up, in that accesskey="f" has
actually been assigned to two separate hyperlinks!!!  

	Check our <a accesskey="f" href=""
title="frequently asked questions">frequently asked questions</a>, <a
p" title="email FirstGov">email FirstGov</a>,...

Also, (and perhaps more importantly) it should be noted that the
keystroke combination of ALT+F (and yes, I know that this is a Windows
only instruction, but let's move on...) is also used virtually
everywhere to open the "File menu"... BUT, if you try and do that at the site, it takes you to the "Ask your Question" page.  This clearly
and dramatically illustrates how broken accesskeys really are!! I wonder
if anybody has ever complained to the official web site of the world's
largest government...  

[2] at the W3C, they use the following accesskeys (information collected
using Gez Lemon's excellent Accesskey Companion -

	Activities: [A] - except in IE 5.5/6, plus adaptive technologies
that use the IE browser or engine (JAWS, WindowEyes, IBM HPR) this
*should* open your favorites folder, except at the W3C site - Oops...

	Technical Reports: [T] - In most mainstream browsers, this is
supposed to open the "Tools" dialogue, in HomePageReader it is the
shortcut for Table Navigation, and in the laptop configuration for JAWS,
it is supposed to "Speak the Title of the Current Window" - except at
the W3C site of course (Oops again...)
	Site Index: [S] {conflict exists}
	New Visitors: [N] {conflict exists}
	About W3C: [B] {MAJOR conflict exists}
	Join W3C: [J] {conflict exists}
	Contact W3C: [C] {conflict exists}
	Unknown: [E] (it actually puts the focus into the search text
input) {MAJOR conflict exists}
	Go: [G]

... Do I really need to go on? 

It's not that the *idea* of accesskeys is bad - I actually see great
merit in providing a keystroke mechanism for page navigation.  It would
aid power users, users who do not or cannot use a mouse (mobility
impaired), can be of significant assistance in web applications which
require repeated use by a select group of users, etc., etc., etc.
Chaals' points have merit (as do Jukka's), however since they can
demostrably pose serious usability/accessibility issues when done
poorly, and since virtually nobody uses them today...

> I don't think that XHTML2 will not have an accesskey mechanism,
> although it is likely to be specified slightly differently than the
> HTML 4 version. There is no reason why the implementation in content
> should not be compatible though.

Accesskeys is slated to be deprecated in XHTML 2, in favor or the new
<access> element and role attribute.

John Foliot
Web Accessibility Specialist / Co-founder of
Web Accessibility Testing and Services   
Phone: 1-613-482-7053  

Received on Sunday, 13 November 2005 18:18:22 UTC