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To Test for Accessibility, Try Navigating Without Your Mouse

A significant percentage of those who use your web pages are people with disabilities, and many of those people can’t use a mouse to navigate through the information they find there. For example, for people who are blind or have low vision a graphical user interface is useless, so they rely on their keyboard alone. Those of us who are sighted might find it difficult to imagine what it means to navigate information by keyboard alone, but there’s an easy way to learn: stop using your mouse for an hour and see what happens.

I’ve known about this method for a few years now, but this week I noticed for the first time something called The #NoMouse Challenge, which is an awareness campaign designed for social media. Users are encouraged to try out their own (or their favorite) websites using only their keyboard and then to share their experience on social media using the #NoMouse hashtag. The webpage associated with this campaign offers these simple tips for keyboard navigation:

  • Press Tab to move to the next link, form element or button.
  • Press Shift+Tab to move to the previous link, form element, or button.
  • Press Enter or space bar to activate the current link or button.
  • Use arrow keys, Escape, or other keys if it doing so would seem to make sense.

Spending some quality time with your keyboard like this goes a long way towards giving you insight into what makes your site accessible (or inaccessible). If there’s a problem with your site, you’ll more likely to find it if you give up your mouse while testing things out.

In my admittedly limited experience, the only browser that has keyboard navigation enabled is Chrome. If you’re using Firefox or (on the Mac) Safari, then you have to make some simple adjustments to get things to work the way you would expect after reading those above tips.

How about you? Have you taken the #NoMouse challenge? What were the results? Alternately, what methods have you found most helpful for evaluating the accessibility of websites? Please share in the comments.

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Laineema]

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