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RE: Part 2 - Access Keys - your collective help is urgently reque sted!


From: Jukka Korpela
Date: Oct 3, 2002 12:52AM

John Foliot wrote:

> My research shows that currently about the only safe
> combinations still
> "un-reserved" by an adaptive technology or other software are:
> "Alt+/" (accesskey="/"),
> "Alt+" (accesskey=""),
> and "Alt+]" (accesskey="]")

I have some bad news.

No, I don't know any Web browsing related software that has those accesskeys
assigned in its own interface. Though I wouldn't be surprised if someone
found one.

But in any case, two of those accesskeys don't work for me at all, and I'm
pretty sure many people share this problem. On my (standard Finnish)
keyboard, and probably on _most_ keyboard layouts in the world except some
English layouts, the characters "/", "", and "]" do not appear as primary
keys but require extra operations to get produced. For me, "/" is Shift 7,
and Alt Shift 7 actually works (on browsers supporting accesskeys). But ""
and "]" are Alt Gr + and Alt Gr 9 respectively, and I can't make them to
work together with Alt. If I try Alt Alt Gr +, I get just the character
inserted if I'm in a text input field, otherwise nothing happens.

There are lots of different keyboards, and with different settings of
course, in use. This is useful to remember when designing normal user input
too - you should avoid requiring the user to include special characters into
their input. There are some illustrations of the variation of keyboards at
In fact, despite all the technological progress made, the set of characters
that we can expect people to be able to use simply is rather limited. It's
basically the so-called invariant subset of Ascii. The characters "" and
"]" do not belong to that subset, partly because they are - according to the
ISO 639 standard - in positions reserved for eventual "national use".

> The intent is to pair them with "skip nav" functions, which,
> while not a Standard per se, is currently mandated in Section
> 508 and is generally a good recommendation (skip navs) even when 508
> compliancy is not required.

"Skip navigation" is really needed, if there is a largish block of
navigational links at the start of each page. And even WCAG 1.0 says this,
in Checkpoint 13.6, though it's just priority 3, strangely enough.

But whether it needs an accesskey is a different matter. If there is a link
at the start of the page, an accesskey wouldn't improve accessibility that
much even if it were assigned, supported by the browser, and known to the

And I would recommend using nouns, not verbs, in link texts. Instead of
giving instructions, like "Skip navigation", name the thing that the link
points to. It could be preceded by an explanation, like
"Page content: Design of Gruntmaster 6000"
This means that you shouldn't use the _same_ text there on all pages, of
course. Instead it would need to vary with actual page content. But
accessibility can't always be easy. :-) Besides, it would normally be a
reasonable solution to generate it from some data that appears on the page
anyway, like the content of the title element, or the content of the main

Jukka Korpela, senior adviser
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
Diffuse Business Guide to Web Accessibility and Design for All:

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