I’ve seen people try to use the web with just a keyboard for a full day, or even a week, but I thought a good place to start would just be a single hour. It doesn’t sound too tough at first, but you quickly realize — how do I switch tabs with my keyboard? Or change to a different application entirely?
It gets worse from there. But first, why?
Why try this at all?
You may have seen some of my recent posts related to accessibility, and this test is along that same vein. I want to better understand how impaired users (whether in mobility, vision, or otherwise) use the web, and going keyboard-only is a great place to start.
It’s hard to find exact numbers, but it seems that roughly 7% of users have “severe dexterity difficulties” that would preclude the use of a mouse, and it’s estimated that 1-2% of users have to rely on a screen reader. Screen reading software uses the same type of interface as a keyboard user would, so we’re talking about nearly 10% of users that aren’t using a mouse when they browse. That’s a lot of people!
By working through this, even for just an hour, I made additional changes to this site and GreenMellen (and will be updating our client sites as well) to make them more keyboard-friendly.
How to get started
I did my test using my Chromebook (at my new standing desk), and whatever type of operating system you’re using I suspect that most of your day is in the browser. For that, I’d suggest printing out two things:
- A list of Chrome keyboard shortcuts (or a similar list for a browser of your choice).
- A list of keyboard shortcuts for any of your main programs, like this info for Gmail.
From there, see what happens and where you get stuck.
Try it yourself
You don’t have to do it for a week, a day, or even an hour. Maybe just set aside 10 minutes, put the mouse in a drawer, and see what you can do. It should help you gain some empathy for users, and depending on your role it may encourage you to put in some work to make it easier for them (and everyone, really) to access the content that you’re working to share.