An illustrative image of a keyboard where the keys are falling into their place on a standard keyboard.

What’s one activity that everyone who works in an information technology related field could do to make a difference to digital accessibility? The answer could be right in front of you as you read this: your keyboard.

A fundamental aspect of accessibility is the ability to use a keyboard to navigate a website, online service or application. “Keyboard Navigation” means being able to use a keyboard instead of a pointing device like a mouse or trackpad.

When we can use a site or service with a keyboard it means that at least to some extent it will work with a large number of assistive technologies like screen readers, switch devices, sip and puff controls and so on. It also means that if we break our mouse or touchpad, we have an alternative method of working until we have a replacement.

You should be able to navigate any of our web pages or online services with just a few keys.

  1. Use the Tab key to move between interactive elements such as links or buttons. You should see a “focus indicator” around the currently selected item. This is often an outline in a good contrasting colour.
  2. Use the Enter key to activate links or buttons.
  3. Use the spacebar to activate buttons, checkboxes, or radio buttons.
  4. Use the cursor keys to move between options in radio buttons or drop-down menus, and sometime mega menus .
  5. Use Escape to exit an interactive element like a dropdown menu or modal window.

At our first Digital Accessibility Community of Practice meeting, we covered an introduction to accessibility and keyboard navigation. This 12 minute demonstration is still available to watch.

So, what does this mean for you?

  1. Why not try performing a critical workflow using a keyboard in a university service you use or support. What’s the experience like?
  2. When talking to a supplier about a new service, ask them to demonstrate the completion of a critical workflow using a keyboard.
  3. When viewing a wireframe, prototype or proof of concept, ask how the team will implement and test keyboard navigation in the final design.
  4. When testing a change, check the effect the change may have on the use of the keyboard.

Learn more

WebAIM has an excellent article explaining keyboard accessibility in greater depth.

What one thing can IT staff do to improve accessibility?

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