DonnaM » Accessibility


Testing keyboard accessibility

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to use my computer mostly via keyboard and voice control, trying to avoid touching my mouse (recurring overuse injury in my elbow).

It has been a very interesting experience from a personal and design perspective. While I have used keyboard and voice to a limited extent before, my injury was less severe before which meant I could more easily fall back on the mouse. This time I’m trying much harder as even a couple of minutes with the mouse hurts.

On the keyboard front, most windows programs manage pretty well and most websites are just OK. Most of my favourites are manageable, but slow and frustrating and I find myself reaching for the mouse just to get around things I should be able to do easily. Plain and standards compliant websites are easiest to manage with the keyboard. They have decent natural tab order and no fancy features the keyboard can’t touch.

I’ll follow next week with some voice experiences, but here’s how some of my favourite sites and systems fared for keyboard use only:

  • Movable type – I can just manage. There are some annoying aspects, like having to tab through all the sidebar content before getting to the main content links and having to pass through the page twice to target the save button
  • Survey Monkey – Could not get past the home link to logon. Totally impossible to use without a mouse
  • Pandora – it has keyboard shortcuts, but I have to pick up my mouse, target the player and then use them (but I still love Pandora)
  • Firefox – grand
  • Thunderbird – all fine, just had to learn some new shortcuts
  • FeedDemon – pretty good, just lots of tabbing
  • Threadless – great except for the little javascript pop-ups
  • Windows software – generally very good, much better than anything in a browser, and far easier to see what is in focus at any time
  • Basecamp – no problems at all
  • My bank was excellent – I paid all my bills without even thinking of the mouse. They always place the focus appropriately and have navigation for key tasks just below their confirmation message, so I don’t have to tab through the whole navigation to pay another bill
  • – no problems whatsoever
  • – I can get around, but can’t see what is in focus without looking at the status bar

Based on my very personal and non-scientific approach, I recommend two very handy things:

  1. Visible skip links would be handy to jump over boring navigation
  2. Give me focus – the most difficult thing is seeing where the focus is up to. Give me a visual indicator and I’ll love you so much.