When I first heard about the
accesskey attribute in HTML I thought "Wow! What a great idea" and started to apply them willy-nilly to projects I was undertaking at work. Some time later, I started to read other articles that described problems with using
accesskeys, problems that I would not discover by myself unless I were using a Screen Reader (something I’d do infrequently during testing cycles of sites at work) or some other assistive device. What’s the problem? Well, in a nutshell, the key that you as an author choose to activate a link/form element/whatever could very well conflict with keys that are already assigned elsewhere. I then came to the conclusion that this great idea is flawed (as did many others) and stopped using them altogether.
The next iteration of XHTML should sort out issues like that, surely? Apparantly not. In The XHTML Role Access Module still flawed, John Foliot summarises how a few years of badgering the various XHTML 2 draft authors appears not to have achieved the desired result:
I continue to maintain that, as currently presented, one of the fundamental flaws of ACCESSKEY will be carried through to this new Element and attribute so long as the @key attribute remains. While I come to this discussion primarily as an Accessibility Advocate, I believe the issues will in fact impact upon all users to some extent.
It’s a fairly long open letter but worth a read. Note -it’s not just John and Derek who can badger/bother/nudge the people responsible for the XHTML 2 draft, remember. If you feel strongly about it, you too can have your say.
On the previous incarnation of Accessify,
accesskeys were hard-coded and, almost certainly, clashed with assistive devices as mentioned in the article referenced above. Strangely, no-one ever wrote in to complain that this was the case. Regardless of this, I decided to try and tackle the problem head on with an interim solution - and that was to create a system that allows the user to opt-in and set their own
accesskeys. I’d be interested in feedback on this idea and suggestions for improvement.