Reasons Not to Use Accesskeys

Syam Kumar April 28, 2004 03:22 AM IST

The accesskey attribute in an HTML tag element assigns an access key to it. Pressing the access key assigned to an element gives focus to the element. While it is a great idea in principle, it may conflict with the User Agent defined keystroke combinations. Derek Featherstone, co-founder of says that using the digits 0 to 9 as accesskeys is not without problems either.

Current and previous versions of WindowEyes software use Alt+0 through Alt+9 to reference "User-defined windows" that outline specific areas of the screen.

In Opera, to activate a letter accesskey, you hold down Shift + Esc + letter. When using numbers on the other hand, you must press Shift + Esc, let go, and then press the number.

This becomes more problematic as the number keys also have functionality within Opera...

This means that if you don't press the number soon enough after you've pressed and released Shift + Esc, you will invoke the default number behaviour instead of the element to which the accesskey is assigned.

The solution he suggests is to use link relationships as an alternative.

As users, we could all get our own way, and we don't have to learn how to have keystroke access to everyone's site, we just learn how to do it within our preferred "smart" user agent. As developers, we could work to define relationships and targets rather than keystrokes that may or may not conflict with keystrokes already defined within a user agent or other piece of technology.

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