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Website accessibility is very important. Making sure that your website is accessible to motor- and visually-impaired users is prudent as well as virtuous: it is best not to exclude any group from using and enjoying your website.
Access keys were introduced to allow motor- and visually-impaired users to navigate a website without using a mouse. On a website with access keys implemented, instead of clicking a link using a mouse, the user can press a combination of one or two modifier keys and then a character key. This can be beneficial both for those who have difficulty using a mouse because of motor-impairment, or those who find it difficult to locate links on a page.
To include an access key attribute in a hyperlink, the following html is used:
[a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.myaccessiblewebsite.com/" accesskey="h"]Home[/a]
Sometimes the appropriate access key character in the anchor text of the hyperlink is underlined:
[a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.myaccessiblewebsite.com/" accesskey="h"][u]H[/u]ome[/a]
The access key attribute can be used in all of the following elements: LEGEND, TEXTAREA, BUTTON, A, AREA, INPUT, LABEL.
Some websites, particularly those with a large number of pages, have an access keys page which lists all of the access keys the site uses, and the pages to which they relate. There is a list of conventional access keys:
S - Skip navigation
1 - Home page
2 - What's new
3 - Site map
4 - Search
5 - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
6 - Help
7 - Complaints procedure
8 - Terms and conditions
9 - Feedback form
0 - Access key details
Whilst access keys seem, on the surface, to be a useful tool to help people to navigate your website, they came under criticism in 2002 after a non-scientific survey by a Canadian web accessibility consultancy, which found that many access key shortcuts clashed with the shortcuts of various accessibility tools such as screen reading software. This means that for many people with disabilities who are using a website, they will not be able to use both their adaptive technology software and access keys. There are a few characters left that have not been appropriated by accessibility software, but they are only available on North-Western keyboards. Indeed, it should be remembered that those using anything other than a Latin keyboard will not be able to make use of Western-assigned access keys. Because of these problems, access keys are no longer recommended by the W3C or by most governments. Alternatives are being considered.
It should be noted that there is much adaptive technology software available which offers similar functions without the problems of access keys. Some web developers argue that far better functionality in the field of accessibility will always be achieved by software than can be achieved by implementing an html attribute, so the onus should not be on web designers to use the accesskey attribute. It is far better for people to be able to use the software of their choosing, which will presumably also be using the alphabet and language most appropriate for them.
By Helena Henderson