Character key shortcuts
This criterion helps people who use voice recognition software, such as Dragon or VoiceControl. It also helps people who use the keyboard but often make accidental keystrokes. The criterion states:
If a keyboard shortcut is implemented in content using only letter (including upper- and lower-case letters), punctuation, number, or symbol characters, then at least one of the following is true:
- Turn off: A mechanism is available to turn the shortcut off
- Remap: A mechanism is available to remap the shortcut to use one or more non-printable keyboard characters (e.g. Ctrl, Alt, etc);
- Active only on focus: The keyboard shortcut for a user interface component is only active when that component has focus.
What are keyboard shortcuts?
Keyboard shortcuts are very useful to many people. They provide a way to do something by hitting a particular key on the keyboard. There are lots of generic keyboard shortcuts that can be used with almost any application or website:
- Ctrl + X
- Cuts the selected text to the clipboard
- Ctrl + C
- Copies the selected text to the clipboard
- Ctrl + V
- Pastes the most recent item that was cut or copied from the clipboard
- Ctrl + A
- Selects all
The thing with all of those keyboard shortcuts is that you have to hit two keys at the same time, usually including the Ctrl key. It's highly unlikely that you would accidentally hit the Ctrl key and another key at the same time. If you were using voice recognition software, it is unlikely that you would say a word that accidentally triggers one of these actions. So they are not a problem.
Single key shortcuts
This criterion only applies to keyboard shortcuts that are operated by using one character, and that character must be a letter, number, punctuation or symbol. That's because someone like me - a person with a tremor or who uses voice recognition software - could accidentally perform an action without meaning to... and that action could be serious.
These single key shortcuts are not widely used. They have to be programmed into the application. Gmail uses them. Many of the Adobe applications use them. Here are some possible examples of character key shortcuts:
- Quits the application and closes it
- Deletes the selected item
- Archives the selected item
- Prints the window which is currently in view
These could be seriously problematic. With my tremor, I hit keys all the time without meaning to. I wouldn't want to accidentally delete my work or close it all down, just because my fingers were doing their own thing.
The bigger risk though, is if I was using Dragon. Firstly, it is not uncommon for Dragon to mishear something or for me to say something without thinking. So what would happen if Dragon mistyped something, and in frustration, I said, "Eh?" (which is pronounced like the letter A)? I'm already frustrated and now I've just archived the email or file I'm working on. Dragon also sometimes picks up things that other people say, in the background. You can imagine how easy it would be to unintentionally activate a keyboard shortcut.
The criterion provides us with three options to solve this problem:
- Provide a way to turn them off or disable them
- Provide a way for the user to remap them
- Ensure that they will only activate when the relevant item is in focus.
Personally, I think the best way is to not use single character key shortcuts at all. By setting shortcuts so that they only work with another key, e.g. Ctrl or Alt, the problem is avoided in the first place.
If you are going to set character shortcuts, then giving the user the ability (without having to scour the Internet to find out how) to turn them off or change them, is the best way.