From the archives: Accessibility and Access Keys

« Ackadia’s Access Keys »

Note: The following is from my archives and as such not relevant to the theme-based WordPress front end we now have.

I can’t actually remember when I wrote this, but the Wayback Machine archive for this access keys article goes back to October 2004, some twelve years ago.

For navigation we use(d) the following access keys:

0  for   Access key details

1  for   Home page

2  for   News and update

3  for   Site map

4  for   Search this site

5  for   Accessibility and Ackadia

6  for   Contacting us

7  for   Privacy policy

S  for   Skip navigation to main content

I am working towards achieving ‘AAA’ accessibility for this site.

This will take a while due to the size of Ackadia, but I am getting there slowly!

How to use Access keys

On the PC

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 and above:
    ALT + AccessKey (to focus the link) + ENTER to activate

  • Opera 7:
    Shift + ESC, followed by AccessKey

  • Mozilla, Netscape 6+ and K-meleon standardise with:
    ALT + AccessKey


  • Netscape 6 and above:
    Control + AccessKey

  • Internet Explorer 5 and 5.1:
    Control + AccessKey*
    *(apparently some systems require Control + Command + AccessKey)

  • I-Cab 2.8:
    Control + AccessKey *
    *(apparently you may need to click on the page first )

  • Incredibly, according to Tertiary Education Commission
    Safari, Opera, Mozilla and OmniWeb do NOT support this on OS X
    Lacking, nor wanting a MAC, I can’t test this myself at present.


  • List I have says all unsupported!

Access key notes and links

Now here is a thing. The people I would have thought most likely to promote the use of ‘accesskeys’ is the RNIB. Naturally, I asked for advice – and was quoted a truly astronomical consultancy fee. I would not be polite or appropriate to offer my acerbic thoughts here, but I offer this insight: They don’t appear to use access keys themselves and, it seems, use the lesser ‘AA’ accessibility rating. Enough said, eh.

Anyway, one of my neighbours is blind and his wife is visually impaired so I asked them if they use the Internet. While I wasn’t in the least bit surprised that they do, I was amazed that Brian is technical consultant for T&T Consultancy Limited ( addenda: they tested screen readers, etc). I’ll be doing pages on this company and others like it elsewhere, but here is Brian’s initial insight:

Whilst the site predominantly is accessible, unfortunately it is not “totally accessible” to all visually impaired people. I was personally comfortable using the site, which I would be, since I wade through lots of web content every week. But if you want your site truly accessible, it has some way to go. I found lots of examples of unlabelled stray symbols, “same page” links with no useful text, and the access key structure was not logically laid out.

For example, it would be more logical to assign alt+1 for what you consider to be the most important link, through to alt+9 for the least important, and then use other alt-based shortcut keys if you really need to.

(My emphasis) It is not advisable to use keys by themselves, since screen reading software now allows you to press individual keys on the keyboard to move to specific parts of a web page and this approach now is becoming quite commonplace. Your single keystrokes would conflict with the screen-reading functionality. Your access keys are unfortunately not logically presented:

There is nothing logical, for example, about alt+O for books. I noted also that keystrokes such as alt+3 were omitted from the sequence.

Essentially, I was trying to do too much and making a mess of things.
I have followed Brian’s advice and used the UK Government Shortcuts Access key Target (below) as my guide.
I will better another opinion off Brian when I have updated, if I can.

Extract from: [ Clagnut on access keys ]

UK Government Shortcuts Access key Target
S Skip navigation
1 Home page
2 What is new
3 Site map
4 Search
5 FAQs
6 Help
7 Complaints procedure
8 Terms and conditions
9 Feedback form
0 Access key details

Thus the remaining available accesskey values are (at most)
`, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, -, =, [, ], /,
C, I, J, K, L, O, P, Q, R, S, U, X, Y, Z

(I would not recommend using punctuation marks)

Addenda November 2016:

Seems little has changed in the past decade. While W3C do mention a few defaults for forms there is no actual agreed standard anywhere for keybinds, so a good idea effectively died.

As Webaim say, it is a A Good Idea Implemented Poorly

Unfortunately, the recommendations are rather vague as to how best to implement keyboard shortcuts. Browser developers, assistive technology developers, and web content developers were left to chart their own course. Despite good intentions, the practice has failed to take hold in user agents and web development practices.

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