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Web Accessibility Guidelines for Keyboard Shortcuts

Under the Information and Communications Standards of the AODA, organizations must make their websites and web-based apps accessible. Organizations must do so by making their websites compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. This international standard gives web developers guidelines on how to make their webpages accessible to computer users with disabilities. However, updates to the Information and Communications Standards could require organizations to comply with more recent versions of WCAG. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released an improved version of these guidelines, version 2.1, in 2018. Moreover, the W3C will release WCAG version 2.2 in September 2022. This article outlines WCAG 2.1’s web accessibility guidelines for keyboard shortcuts.

Web Accessibility Guidelines for Keyboard Shortcuts

When someone operates a computer using only their keyboard, they use keyboard shortcuts instead of mouse clicks. Most keyboard shortcuts involve pressing and holding a combination of:

  • Character keys, including:
    • Letters, in upper-case or lower-case
    • Numbers
    • Punctuation
    • Symbols
  • Non-printable keys, such as:
    • Control
    • Alt
    • Command
    • Option

In other words, each keyboard shortcut should include both of the following:

  • At least one (1) character key
  • At least one (1) non-printable key

However, some web designers create shortcuts that only include character keys. Users can easily activate these shortcuts by accident. Therefore, web designers should avoid creating keyboard shortcuts using only character keys.

Alternatively, when designers do include keyboard shortcuts involving only character keys, they should provide ways for users to either turn off these shortcuts, or remap them to include non-printable keys.

Advanced Requirements

The WCAG webpage provides the full list of requirements, as well as technical guidance on how to implement them. The AODA only requires websites to follow guidelines in version 2.0, level AA. However, the WCAG webpage provides guidelines at level AAA. While websites do not need to follow these guidelines, they can choose to follow them as a best practice. Websites that follow more guidelines have the chance to welcome more visitors and do more online business.