W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ua@w3.org > January to March 1999

Keyboard mapping among assistive technology tools

From: Harvey Bingham <hbingham@acm.org>
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 1999 11:11:31 -0500
Message-Id: <4.1.19990326091833.00cbf340@pop.tiac.net>
To: w3c-wai-ua@w3.org
1. Observations:

1.1 There is little consistency in keyboard mappings for special commands 
and functions across the different assistive technology (AT) software,
visual user agents, and operating systems. 

1.2 Alan Cantor notes some 600 combinations of special keys and regular 
keys are available. A typical application only uses a few of these, to
perform application-specific functions, possibly augmented by user 
assignment. The effect of these may depend on the point of regard, the 
focus, the current selection, the window or toolbar, application, 
operating system, etc. 

1.3 A user exploring a new AT package may first need to absorb the keyboard
mappings. A user familiar with one AT package will have less initial
learning if the familiar keyboard could be used, at least as a starting
set. Then only the differences would need to be absorbed.

2. Possible solution:

WAI, as an application-, vendor-, and system-neutral organization, may
be in a position to recommend a common core of keyboard functionality
for assistive technology use.

2.1 Each supplier should permit keyboard customization, and in fact 
provide starter customizations for persons familiar with other packages.

Benefit: Reduced startup effort to transition from a prior familiar AT 

2.2 A new AT supplier would presumably consider the keyboard assignment 
work of others, recognize the desirability of commonality, and explain 
any differences.
Benefit: Keep what works, augment only for what's new.

2.3 A bridge to using more than one package would be to allow a user
personality profile that would allow identification of mappings from 
function to its familiar keyboard mapping. Persons with limited 
finger choices (such as one-handed) will need keyboard remapping, so
it may already be included. 

Benefit: Flexibility of user choice.

3. Problems across user agents, operating systems, and assistive 

Users comfortable with one keyboard mapping will be unhappy making any
changes. [Most English typists still use a QWERTY keyboard, in spite of the
demonstrated enhancements to typing rate and accuracy using the DVORAK
keyboard! In DOS/WINDOWS the CTRL+ALT+DEL remains an essential part of
daily life.]

3.1 Slight differences in effect may exist among implementations of 
similarly named concepts and functions.

3.2 Overlapping key assignments from different user agents for different 
keyboard functions, possibly with disastrous consequences if confused, or
mapped in ignorance of the differences. 

3.3 Additional and different functionality that differentiates one AT
from another, for which no equivalents exist.

3.4 Different choices for the special keys may depend on the operating 

3.5 Conflicts in assignment among keys for different natural languages.

4. Recommendations:

If someone were able to identify the largely common command/control
functionality handled through keyboard combinations among AT software
applications, and indicate which functions are common among them, 
that would be a big help.

4.1 User agents should provide keyboard remapping facilities.

4.2 User agents should provide starter profiles for personalized remappings
from other AT software, and explain differences.

Regards/Harvey Bingham
Received on Friday, 26 March 1999 11:55:52 UTC

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