The bad thing about accesskeys

Posted Thursday, April 21, 2005

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Adding accesskeys (website shortcuts) is a nice usability improvement, but I would like to point out two very important things to consider before implementing acceskeys.

Because everybody's browser doesn't have the same keyboard shortcuts, and because plugins implement their own, defining a shortcut isn't as simple as you might think.

  1. Don't use keys already defined by browsers OR plugins
  2. implement them consistently with every other website on the (pla)net

...err, if you still think you can handle that, good luck to you!
Indeed, and regrettably, there will always be some feature competing with your accesskeys, however finger-twisting they may be. Always. That's where increased accessibility through keyboard shortcuts falls short, and I don't think accesskeys should be used except on frequently visited websites such as portals (with the possibility to turn them off easily reachable) and intranets.
That's quite a partisan stand to make for a keyboard shortcut addict as me, but I really don't think that accesskeys should be used outside of these two cases. Fortunately there is a way out...

The tab alternative

Something to consider (anywhere) is tab index. Little interference and widespread knowledge, it should be reliable enough for your everyday needs. Should your content be source-ordered (navigation loads after content) it should be fairly easy to add anchors to important elements to have them tab foreseeably. It is limited but less problematic too. Less is more, as the saying goes...

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