Is there a future for HTML access keys ?

Unfortunately, after doing a lot of research we have decided to stop using access keys on sites we build until they are better supported. At the moment they interfere with keyboard shortcuts that already exist on different operating systems, browsers, and even screen readers.

How Could This Have Happened?

Access Keys are a great idea, even for regular web users it’s nice to have keyboard shortcuts for your website, so why haven’t they become more popular?

The main reason is that there has never been a standard adopted for what keys go with what actions. The closest thing to a standard is the UK government’s recommendation, which hasn’t really caught on. The few web authors who have chosen to use access keys have normally just set the keys to whatever they saw fit (‘h’ for home for instance) instead of staying within a range of keys.

This made it so the access key user needed to look up the keys on a site by site basis. Imagine having to memorize the access keys for every site you visit… If there were a standard set years ago then maybe operating systems and browsers wouldn’t have taken all the available keys (including the ones recommended by the UK Government).

What about the future?

It’s hard to say, the HTML5 spec, which is the closest thing we have to a roadmap of the future of the web, still has a section on access keys, and it doesn’t mention that they are phasing them out. Still there is no mention of which keys should go with which actions, and without that I’d say the future is bleak for the access key.

If somehow access keys are better supported in the future, mimoYmima will be the first to build them back into our sites, but unfortunately at the moment they aren’t very useful and do more harm than good.

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