Provide a way to turn off character key shortcuts

A Settings webpage where you can turn off character key shortcuts
Image description: A website titled, "Settings" with text below that says, "Character key shortcuts: on." Below there is a purple switch button labeled, "Turn off." There are 2 character key shortcuts with the letter highlighted in pink: "G" for "Giddy up cowboy" and "S" for "Saddle up."

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Why This is Important

Because people might accidentally press keys, it's accessible to provide a way to turn off character key shortcuts, especially for people with motor disabilities.

Blind and visually impaired people use screen readers to interact with websites and apps. A screen reader is a type of assistive tech that converts things on screen to audio and/or braille. It's important that things are understandable and interactive to screen readers.

Keyboard accessibility is essential for people who do not use a computer mouse (which might be because they have unpredictable or very specific movement due to a motor disability). Many Blind and visually impaired people also use keyboard interactions in order to use their screen reader.

Error support is accessible to people with a diversity of disabilities. A cognitive disability might affect how a person perceives and understands things. A physical disability might lead to unpredictable movement. Other factors such as environment, stress, and multi-tasking may also lead to errors.

In order to be accessible, gestures and interactions must account for people with physical and motor disabilities, who might have unpredictable or very specific movement.

Keyboard shortcuts are very helpful to keyboard users because they can speed up things without requiring a mouse. However, they can also lead to mistakes if the user presses certain keys accidentally, which may occur if the user has a motor disability that makes movement less predictable. This is also a great cat-proofing and baby-proofing measure.

This references WCAG criterion 2.1.4 Character Key Shortcuts (Level A).

Level AAA compliance is considered more difficult to meet because it requires more resources to fulfill. It also might encompass conflicting access needs (meaning what is accessible to some might be inaccessible to others). Use your best judgment of your target audience and your team's capabilities to determine if this is a pragmatic goal to reach.

How to Implement This

WCAG recommends the following ways to approach this:

  • Turn off - A mechanism is available to turn the shortcut off;
  • Remap - A mechanism is available to remap the shortcut to include one or more non-printable keyboard keys (e.g., Ctrl, Alt);
  • Active only on focus - The keyboard shortcut for a user interface component is only active when that component has focus.

Providing a way to turn off shortcuts in settings is straightforward and easy to understand. For example, Gmail provides a radio button to turn shortcuts off.

Gmail setting to turn keyboard shortcuts on and off
Image description: a screenshot of the keyboard shortcuts in Gmail settings. There are 2 radio buttons to turn the shortcuts on and off and a learn more link under the title.

Interesting Further Reading

How to Test This

Manual Test
Semi-Automated Test
Automated Test
  • Become familiar with any keyboard shortcuts that are specific to this website/app
  • Check the settings for a way to turn off or remap the keyboard shortcuts
  • Check if the keyboard shortcut works only if an element receives focus or not


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