Are accesskeys dead?

Do accesskeys have any place in modern accessible websites? I have always found them a bit cumbersome, partly because almost each browser has a different - often hamfisted - key combination to invoke an accesskey. Also I haven’t found any recent articles on accesskeys. Of course, this could mean they’re so widely used that everyone know about them :smiling_imp: - but probably not!!!

Are you talking about shortcut key combinations like Ctrl + V, or is that something different. If it’s the latter, then I’m not sure I know what accesskeys are.

No, they are different (slightly) than shortcut keys. I’m probably showing my age. I seem to recall Opera used Ctrl+Esc to show a list of available accesskeys on a page. The UK government used to have a list of suggested accesskeys.

This wikipedia article explains better than I can.

I read somewhere that they do more harm than good, since most key combos do something else in the browser, making them virtually useless.

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I think you’re probably right Sam.

I don’t recall where I read that, but I was convinced by it enough to go and remove them after spending time adding them.

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IMHO they work well for desktop apps. eg. the browser’s
File Edit View etc. type of controls.

But the big problem is the inconsistencies.

After you go through the trouble of handling the variations in key code values, you need to hope you’re not hijacking its use by something else.

As ever, my go-to source is WebAIM, and they are cautious about the use of accesskeys.


This may be it.


“A Good Idea Implemented Poorly”

seems to sum it up!

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I’ve been testing current support with chaals here (github), and based on what I’ve seen, I’d say this:

  1. if you use accesskeys, stick to numbers. This is mostly because most AT quick-keys are letters. Not all of them, though.
  2. only Firefox and Opera/Presto (so 12 and under) seem to even show the accesskeys. If you use them, you’ll need to somehow let the user know of them.
  3. most of the tests we did show that each really needs to be unique. Browsers don’t error-handle these very well.

Chaals believes that the idea behind them is too good to let die. It would be great if vendors (browser makers) would implement these better and within a real strict set of rules.


Being a chronic mouser I’m likely off on this. My thought is that for what can be reasonably expected to be common actions for many - such as going to “home”, posting a reply, other?, access keys provide a short-cut for non-dexterity-impaired “power users” so they don’t need to mouse.

But I understand that some people have problems controlling a mouse, be it wrist movement or finger twitching.

tabindex can work, but without a “skip” link it might mean tab has to be hit many times, and woe to those that go past it and need to go through the process again. I imagine the repetitive tabbing might be a problem for some.

accesskey - when / if - it works, reduces the repetitiveness needed to get to the goal. But I imagine needing to hit two keys at varying distances apart might be a problem for some. Try a ctrl-alt-del using only one hand, now try it while holding a cup of coffee in that hand. :coffee:

Arrow keys seem like a good alternative. I guess some keyboards don’t have them? Mine always have, but I keep them in num lock so I can more easily type numbers using a “learned” telephone like arrangement pattern. Not too much trouble to toggle num lock and it’s one at a time presses.

tapping? I don’t know, I don’t have a touch screen.

Voice recognition? How does a browser know to go to “loud truck going by” while I’m mumbling?

I like that browsers have configurable short-cuts for many activities eg. the below Vivaldi image, but TBH I’m not savvy about what if anything I can do web-page-wise other than have valid semantic mark-up. And seeing as how “loose” HTML5 is, I don’t know if HTML5 is an improvement or not.

“Sticky keys” exists for that scenario. Once enabled, you can type each character sequentially, not simultaneously. I’ve used them on Ubuntu and Windows 7; I imagine Mac also has them.

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I used to have a client with MS who used voice recognition. I was amazed at how “dexterous” he was controlling his PC, but the software wasn’t cheap - and it has been getting more expensive.

Dragon will ask you to repeat that, it didn’t quite get it : P

It’s only weekends at the moment, but I’m slowly going through the tutorials for Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

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