An article I wrote on keyboard accessibility was published at Practical eCommerce magazine this morning. The topic is keyboard accessibility – what constitutes keyboard accessibility and how crucial it is for users who are blind, low-vision, or have mobility impairments.

Which brings to mind the question: is there really such a thing as a fully keyboard-dependent user?

This is a question that gets asked in accessibility communities occasionally. Most uses who are unable to use a standard mouse can still use specialized pointing devices such as a trackball, joystick, track pad, switch interface, or a voiced touch screen, to name a few possibilities. How often will it come up that a user is actually dependent solely on the keyboard?

I think that’s a misleading question.

It truly doesn’t matter whether there is such thing as a user who can only navigate a web site using a keyboard – what matters is whether or not a user may need to navigate any given portion of a web site solely using the keyboard – and that’s a context question. When focus is currently on one item, and you need to move to the next focusable point in the same set, moving via keyboard may still be the easiest option – and it should work. If any one part of the web site does not support the keyboard, then that experience will be broken. The user may still be able to use the site, because of their alternative pointing device, but that does not justify requiring an unnecessary change of device context or lack of clarity because the keyboard wasn’t considered.

It’s a dangerous thought to consider that the failure to identify a keyboard-only, sighted user means that any part of a site can be exempted from keyboard accessibility. It’s a thought that seems to be derived from actual users, but doesn’t consider creating an optimal experience to be a priority; only ensuring that things are possible.

It’s also worth pointing out that even if a user has an alternative pointing device, it’s worth addressing the fact that any external device can break. If your pointing device breaks, the keyboard should still be a viable option.

Situational or temporary accessibility problems are still problems, and should be considered of equal importance to any permanent problem.