WebAIM - Web Accessibility In Mind

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RE: keyboard access [was Re: Sample Sites]


From: Paul Bohman
Date: Aug 30, 2002 3:53PM

Part 1 of my message:

>Kevin Spruill asked: What about keyboard accessibility? I notice that
you don't use

My comments:

As a general rule, it is not necessary to alter the default tab order of
the links or form fields. Most of the time, when a page is designed
well, the default tab order will be the most logical tab order.

When you change the default tab order, you run the risk of disorienting
users. For example, if a person starts to tab through the page, only to
discover that the focus jumps around in a different order than expected,
you may confuse the person. Similarly, a blind person may listen
straight through the page the first time, then begin to tab through the
links, expecting the links to be in the same order as the reading order.

Anything that has the potential to disorient the user should be avoided.

However, there are certainly circumstances when the best tab order is
not the same as the linear reading order. In my opinion, the tabindex
attribute *should* be used in these circumstances, but *only* in these

Part 2 of my message:

>Emma Jane Hogbin said: I would have thought [tabindex] was something
that was easy to do and should go higher in the scale. Does anyone know
how checkpoints are assigned to each of the three levels? Does anyone
think this item could (or should) be Priority One or Two?

My comments:

Checkpoints are given a level, or priority, based on the relative
"importance" or benefits that they offer to accessibility. Of course,
this is very subjective. Not everyone will agree that all of the
checkpoints have been assigned the correct priority. In fact, you could
argue that some of the level 3 checkpoints are necessary for some
people, and therefore could be considered priority 1 for these
individuals, even if these checkpoints are not necessary for people with
other types of disabilities.

In general, levels or priorities are not assigned based on ease of
compliance. As such, some level 3 items are easier to accomplish than
some level 1 or 2 items. If you look at the level 2 or 3 items and
decide that they're easy enough to incorporate into your design, then,
by all means, please do! There's nothing wrong with making your Web
pages more accessible! But, as I mentioned above, the tabindex attribute
is one that should only be applied when the default tab order is

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University

P.S. For those wondering what tabindex means, it is simply an attribute
that can be applied to links, form fields, and other elements. Web
authors can specify the exact order that these elements should be
accessed. Here is an example:

<a href="http://www.webaim.org" tabindex="2">WebAIM</a>
<a href="http://www.w3.org" tabindex="1">W3C</a>

In the above example, when the user tabs through the page, the first
link that the user will tab to will be the W3C link, because the
tabindex is set to "1", even though this particular link comes *after*
the link to WebAIM above it.

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