The Applicability of Keyboard Access

Back in December of 2011 I wrote (which is almost impossible for me to believe);

“[I]n searching for alternative methods of access — which essentially means [the] ways [in which] I input my intentions into a computer, and I’ve also begun to experiment with a trackpad, too — I discovered the keyboard is my ideal method of access. I had to change a few [Operating System] OS specific key commands, for usability’s sake, but using the keyboard to control a computer cut way down on the time I used to fumble with the mouse.”

Habit is powerful thing. I’ve spent virtually the entire time on my computer “fumbling” around with various input devices. Specialty mice (specifically programmable mice), not so special mice (the Apple hockey puck comes to mind), trackballs (I hated using a trackball), Wacom tablets and most recently an Apple Track Pad. All had their pro’s but each had a lot of con’s. Mainly in terms of my ability to use them. More often than not, the trackball especially, they were just awkward for me to use in any productive fashion.

The irony of it all is the most productive means of access was sitting right there in front of my face, the whole time. The keyboard. And as time lapsed I was gravitating my use increasingly away from those various input devices I was trying to use to the keyboard without realizing it. Not because it was more natural feeling, rather it was just easier for me.

And in an even greater twist of irony, it wasn’t until Apple released OSX (Operating System Ten) Lion when I started exploring the keyboard as my “sole” means of input. And I don’t mean with common keystrokes — like Command + Q to quit and Application, say — to speed up my interactions with a computer, but by customizing certain OS dedicated “Keyboard Shortcuts” in the OSX System Preferences “Keyboard” pane.

In the System Preferences > Keyboard pane (as far back as Snow Leopard) and under the “Keyboard Shortcuts” option you’ll see a list of Actions Categories, if you will, on the left side of the window. Then when you click on a “category” you’ll get a list of specific actions, and the key combinations that perform the actions they correspond to. For instance, in Mountain Lion in said Keyboard Shortcuts pane the “Launchpad & Dock”, the highlighted “category” once you open the Keyboard System Preference on the left of the open window, on the right you’ll see both “Turn Dock On/ Off” and “Show Launchpad” with their corresponding “shortcuts”.

Under “Mission Control” (and this will only apply to Lion and above as it deals with OSX “Spaces”) I changed the “Move left a space” from Control (⌃) + Left Arrow (←) to Option (⌥) + Left Arrow (←) and  “Move right a space” from Control (⌃) + Right Arrow (→) to Option (⌥) + Right Arrow (→) by highlighting a specific action and pressing return so the action will allow you to record the key combinations I suggest (or a different  one of your choosing). This will give you the ability to switch “Spaces” a bit easier. Which essentially means “swiping” left or right between open Applications that happen to be in “Full screen mode”. I prefer  my key combinations simply for the reason I use the smaller Apple keyboard and the keys I cited are very close to each other. Again, it makes everything so much easier for me.

Next under “Keyboard & Text” change “Move focus to the menu bar” from Control (⌃) + F2 to Command & Option ( & ⌥) + Left Arrow (←). This way when you press that key combination the Apple () menu on the top left corner of your screen will highlight, or receive focus. Then with the left and right arrow keys you have the option of moving the “focus” to any menu item on the left side of the menu bar across the top of your screen. And once you arrive at a desired menu item use the down arrow to open up that menu list and keep pressing the down arrow until you arrive at the desired menu item. To select it simply hit the space bar.

Same deal from “Move focus to status menus” (those are the items located adjacent, on the right side of the top of your screen, to the “menu bar”) change the “shortcut” from Control (⌃) + F8 to Command & Option ( & ⌥) + Right Arrow (→).

But by far the most efficient “Keyboard Shortcut” I’ve altered is for “Move focus to the dock”. This likely cuts a rather significant chunk of my day I’d spend switching between Applications, open or closed. I changed the “shortcut” from Control (⌃) + F3 to Option (⌥) + Down Arrow (↓). That’s seriously the function I use most on my computer.

And that’s essentially it. 5 simple “shortcuts” I use to make my day a little more efficient. But keep in mind, what makes these key stroke combinations so efficient for me is, as I said, is their proximity to each other and I use sticky keys — which hold down the modifier keys I need to press specific key combinations.

A sort of caveat: these “shortcuts” don’t come free of charge. For instance any of the Option (⌥) + Arrow Key combinations cause conflicts which various Application functions. The Option (⌥) + Right Arrow (→) when editing text will jump the cursor ahead an entire word. Versus just a single character should you press an arrow key by itself, had you not changed the shortcut. In Photoshop using Option (⌥) + Down Arrow (↓) while using the move tool duplicates the active layer. And in iTunes using Option (⌥) + Left Arrow (←) jumps back to the beginning of the song that is currently playing.

The good thing is once you change these options in the “System Preferences” those changes will override any setting the OS or an Application has set to do anything. I haven’t tested this out with any other commonly reserved key combinations, but I believe these modifications are reasonable, and in the year and a bit I’ve been using them I haven’t come across any issues, more than  what I stated above. Point being you have to weigh these things out. What’s more important to you? Find, and experiment with, your preferences. And never sit still.

This post is much longer than I imagined it would be. And it’s a lot more technical than I’d intended. And these “tips” are fairly specific, seeing how they are Apple centric, but I promised I’d document what it was I did to help myself. And that’s precisely what this is. A document detailing how I personally attempt to better my computer access through keyboard access. There you have it.

One last thing, I’m very interested in how “accessible” the various symbols I used in this post are. With screen readers especially. I have some testing to do. However should you happen to be a screen reader user, might you be so kind to leave a comment below, detailing, however briefly, your experiences with them are? Thanks a ton…

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