Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and in honor of the occasion I decided to attempt going mouse-free for an hour.
I admit I went into this challenge a little overconfident; I mean, I've got a pretty good vocabulary of keyboard shortcuts, I'm reasonably tech-savvy - it may take longer than navigating with a mouse, but I figured it would be a stimulating challenge and I might come away with some more keyboard tricks in my bag.
I was mistaken.
After about 30 minutes of researching keyboard navigation, I realized I was going to have to have to narrow the scope of this challenge if I wanted to complete my mouse-free hour and write a blog post before the end of the day: I would limit myself to web activities (in my Google Chrome browser), I would not use any of keyboard navigation plug-in applications, and I set myself a series of five every-day, mundane tasks to complete.
1. Check my email, and compose and send an email.
2. Check out my blog feed and share any interesting new posts (via the feed's Share feature).
3. Watch a YouTube video.
4. Purchase an audiobook and send it to my eReader.
5. Check the time for the movie I'm attending tonight.
I printed off Chrome's 4-page list of keyboard shortcuts and, with trepidation, turned off my mouse.
Checking my email wasn't so bad. It's easy enough to open a tab and select my email from my bookmarks. Pro-tip: once you've tabbed to your bookmark folders, you have to hit space-bar to see the listed sites - not enter, not down-arrow, not any of the other arrows, and not enter 10 times in rapid succession. The tabbing order for my mail client (Gmail) was pretty intuitive, though tabbing does get tedious after a while, and the only hiccup in sending an email was not realizing that the Send button at the bottom is in the tabbing order long before the top one. So far, so good.
The blog feed was not so simple. I'm a Google Reader user, and I typically navigate to Reader from my G+ feed. This may not be a problem for most people - I am told there are only about 12 people who use G+ that aren't Google employees - but it was a big problem for me. When you open G+, the tabbing starts with your G+ feed: you have to tab through your feed entries before you can tab to the other page components, but the G+ feed uses infinite scrolling. That's right, I would have had to tab through every entry in my G+ feed before I could reach the menu I needed to access Reader. I immediately closed the tab in horror, opened a new one, and typed "google reader" in the address bar. Much better. Checking my blog feed was easily done; however, when I found a link I liked I had to tab through every link in every previous post in my feed to get to it and open the link. And the Share button was not one of the tab destinations when tabbing through the posts (infinite scrolling is also a feature of Reader), so I gave up on my assignment to share a post.
It was easy enough to make my way to a desired YouTube video (an episode of David Mitchell's Soapbox was my destination), but I couldn't figure out how to skip ads - how do you tab a button that's on the video? And I couldn't seem to tab to the controls under the video, or at least I couldn't tab there before I got frustrated and decided not to try out fullscreen. It is possible that I just didn't realize when I'd made it to the controls - there were points when the selection box disappeared entirely. I could have been anywhere.
By far the worst experience was trying to purchase an audiobook (from a major audiobook seller) without a mouse. I could only see what I'd selected about 5% of the time and selecting entries returned in my searches was apparently impossible. I couldn't even select audiobooks presented on their home page. After 3 or 4 tries, I gave up. Checking on the movie time restored some of my faith in humanity. The only incident when navigating to my desired film and theatre was having to tab through all the movies in a drop-down list without the benefit of having the list actually drop down so I could see what I was tabbing through. I only realized what was happening by watching the information flashing at the bottom of my browser window.
These tasks, which would normally take about 15-20 minutes to complete, took nearly an hour. And 3 minutes before my clock ran out I accidentally hit Ctrl+Q and closed my browser. I didn't know how to reopen my browser from the desktop, so that was the end of my mouse-free challenge. I was only able to totally complete 2 of the 5 tasks I set for myself - I'd say about a 60% success rate overall. I can't imagine what it would have been like to do something more complicated - pay a bill, buy a pair of shoes, catch up on my Hulu queue. At least I could see everything on my monitor; a lot of users who have to navigate entirely via keyboard can't.
Using technology without all of your faculties is hard, not to mention frustrating. It's a shame that a tool as amazing as the internet is inaccessible to so many users.
You can learn more about Global Accessibility Awareness Day at the Global Accessibility Awareness Day website.
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