[whatwg] Accesskey in Web Forms 2

Sander whatwg at juima.org
Tue Nov 9 20:10:19 PST 2004

Laurens Holst wrote:
> and I yet have to see the
> first site where accesskeys are visually indicated.

http://juima.org/events/pic.asp?picid=1649 (Finally something public I 
can link to.) :P

I have strong doubts about the usefulness of any scheme which relies on
users to define their own shortcut keys. It would be massively useful
for power users (so personally I'm completely in favor), but the vast
majority of users of, for example, this 'photo album' would never even
conceive of the idea that doing something like that would be possible.
(And I _highly_ doubt that any useragent would clutter its UI enough to
get even a tiny percentage of them to discover the possibility.)
Yet the 'task' these users perform in this photo album is highly
repetitive (going to next picture, and the next, and the next, ...), and
based on feedback I've received ever since I put in the access keys,
shortcut keys make it far easier on them. (Particularly for instances of
such a vertically large image, which has many users on small
resolutions scrolling or opting for full-screen mode.)
Note that this is true regardless of whether a browser opts to follow
the link on the use of the access key (Mozilla), or to only focus it (IE).

Access keys are far from perfect. No matter what the access key, there
will always be some more or less obscure add-on tool with which they
conflict. (I believe that it's the task of the user agent to give
precedence to its own shortcut keys over those of the website, or better
yet, to give users the option to decide precedence on a site-by-site
basis.) Yet despite that, for the people who're actually using the site,
their practical usefulness can far outweigh any theoretical disadvantages.
As goes for many things, access keys should be used wisely, and in
moderation. Yet whenever a specific task is performed repeatedly (so
that efficiency can be highly improved by providing keyboard access), by
a well known group of users (so that you can be reasonably certain not
to conflict with accessibility tools - or know to provide a way to
remove their existence when necessary), access keys definitely have
their place.

The major use case is of course data entry. I've implemented numerous
CMSs using access keys wherever possible (and yes, all visually
indicated) - and having had to actually USE several of these systems
afterward (doing silly things like manually entering the specifics of a
few hundred products), I can say I was very glad I did.

> I guess the
> question is whether anyone ever actually uses them accesskeys.

Nearly all (?) popular web-based message board systems (such as
vBulletin and phpbb) have two access keys defined for posting messages.
"s" for submit and "p" for preview. (Actually, I'm not completely
certain about the ubiquitous nature of "p", but "s" definitely is used
by the majority of boards.) Each such message board is by its very
nature used _a lot_ by a relatively small group of users, and rarely by
everyone else. I don't know any which use visual indication (that
definitely could be improved), but users learn about these access keys
anyway, tell each other about them, and take advantage of them on each
new message board they visit. It's something they know to rely on (on
the specific subset of websites which are message boards); something
which makes their lives just a little bit easier - making them not need
to lift their fingers from the keyboard after they're done typing.
I am willing to hazard that there are hundreds of thousands of users -
if not millions of them - using just these two access keys dozens of
times a day, every day.

Ian Hickson wrote:
> Maybe this is one case where we just want a half-assed solution?

As I think the current situation with access keys can be described as
"half-assed", my vote is for yes. :) (And then I echo James' comments on 
adding recommendations for best behaviour for user agents.)


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