Access keys are keyboard shortcuts that are intended to help users who have difficulty in using pointing devices such as a mouse. They are intended to simplify navigation for people using special devices such as screen readers by delivering quick access to important links.

In an article recently published by Nomensa, it is found that access keys, normally implemented to improve accessible web navigation, can actually cause difficulty in web surfing while using assistive technologies such as screen readers.

No Common Standard:

There are no universal standards for what link should use which access key. That is not to say there are not some example standards in place, but that even with one, a common standard may not make sense on some web sites. Presently, the UK government has instigated a standard that is aimed at government sites, yet may not work for other sites. It is difficult to envisage a common set of access keys that could be applied across different sites, which would have to be the aim for wide spread usage by people.

Interference With Access Devices

Many of the people who should benefit from access keys use special devices to use a computer, for example: users of screen readers or special browsers. These devices often have a multitude of keyboard commands, including some that use the Alt key.

No understanding of Access Keys in the Target Population

People who are supposed to benefit from access keys rarely know what they are. When testing a site with people using screen readers, none tried using the access keys available. A typical comment was "I don't think they work with a screen reader".

Alastair Campbell, Nomensa’s Director of Research and Technology said, “Designed for improving accessibility, access keys have become a rising issue in the field. Since the idea behind access keys was created, accessible technology has evolved and become more efficient, and the access key concept has not been adapted. We are fully committed to the W3C International Accessibility Standards, and are confident this issue will be addressed.”
Without something to encourage the usage of access keys, they simply do not get used. If you go to the trouble of using access keys, they are not likely to be used by the people you aim them at.

About Nomensa

Nomensa is dedicated to improving online effectiveness through humanising technology. We are experts at understanding online behaviour and use our knowledge to improve the effectiveness of online systems and how people interact with technology.
A digital design company, Nomensa evaluates, develops and improves interactive digital solutions. By putting people first, Nomensa design solutions for the Internet, interactive TV and mobile technology that conform to the world’s highest standard in accessibility.

Read the Full Article on Access Keys:

For More Information Contact:
Ted Davis
Communications Coordinator
T: 0117 929 7333 F: 0117 929 7543

Published on: 12:00AM on 12th August 2004