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>> Access keys are another accessibility feature that were recommended with good intentions but have not worked well. Access key is an HTML attribute that can be assigned to links and form controls. You set a letter or a number on the link or form control in order to take the user directly there. On Windows they're activated by pressing ALT plus the access key. An exception to this is Firefox 2, which now uses ALT + Shift and then the access key.
On a Mac, you press Control plus the access key. The idea is that they can help people to navigate around the page or to frequently access pages or form fields quickly from anywhere in the site. But the problem with access keys is that they almost always interfere with other programs keyboard commands. Screen readers already use a huge number of keyboard shortcuts. The ALT key, used with access keys on Windows, is already used in many shortcuts for accessing browser menus, entering characters by their numerical key code, and other functions.
Almost the only key combinations that are safe to assign because they're not already assigned to another program are numbers. This is what the UK government recommends. The UK government has a set of standard access keys that are made up of all numbers with only one letter access key. But even if you use a key combination that doesn't interfere with any other programs, it's unlikely that your users will know that they have an access key that they can use and even if they do know that they will understand how it works and if it will help them.
Finally, since access keys are defined by each individual web developer, they are not consistent across sites. A user who wanted to take advantage of access keys would have to memorize a different set for every site that they used. The UK government's standardized set of access keys helps in this area, but this is far from being a universal standard. The conclusion basically is that it's okay to set numbers as access keys on your site following something like the UK government's standards, but really access keys shouldn't be needed and they won't necessarily be used or help your users.
We've gone over many other techniques throughout this title, such as setting headings, lists and skip navigation links that should be sufficient for creating accessible navigation around your site. So if you genuinely think that access keys are necessary on your page, it's probably an indication that you have a bigger problem that you need to address first with more widely used and effective navigation mechanisms.
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