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Links and navigation: Keyboard shortcuts

For visitors who dependon navigation by means of the keyboard, HTML offers another accessibility extension: the Access key attribute. Links containing this attribute can be accessed by means of a keyboard shortcut.

This keyboard shortcut is the character specified in the Access key attribute, plus one or more modifier keys. Modifier keys, like the alt or ctrl key, are used to modify the regular action of another key when the two are pressed together. This functionality is similar to the many keyboard shortcut that occur in programmes.

Example of use of the Access key attribute (HTML)

<a Access key="5" ...>

"Provide keyboard shortcuts to important links (including those in client-side image maps), form controls, and groups of form controls."

Limitations of keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts constitute a sound principle, but in practice, their use is hampered by three major limitations.

  • There is no standard for keyboard shortcuts used on websites.
    This MIGHT mean that a visitor is confronted with a new combination on every website, which he needs to learn to use it.
  • Keyboard shortcuts clash with the standard keyboard shortcuts in the web browser and the operating system.
    This should not be the case, but unfortunately it is for a number of key combinations.
  • The number of key combinations that can be realistically used is very limited.
    The choice is limited to ordinary letters and numbers, mainly due to the way in which these combinations are entered – hitting one combination of keys at the same time. After eliminating the commonly used keyboard shortcuts for operating systems and the browsers as well, only a handful of letters and numbers remain.

Therefore the use of the Access key attribute is not recommended.

Avoid using the Access key attribute. If the decision is nevertheless made to apply this attribute, only use it on links that remain unchanged throughout the site (e.g. main navigation) and limit the shortcut key combinations to numbers.

Guideline R-pd.8.11

"Access key is the delinquent teenager of accessible HTML. It is difficult to make Access key work."


Web Guidelines version 1.3, November 2007.