Web Without A Mouse

Not everyone uses a mouse (or other pointing device) on their computer and there is no reason why anyone should have to since anything that can be done using a mouse can also be done using a keyboard. All you need to know to be able to work your computer without a mouse is what keyboard commands to use to perform each task.

Here we are going to look specifically at web browsers and the keyboard commands that allow you to interact with web pages (since some of these are functionality provided by the operating system they will also be available in other programs as well).

There are a number of keys on your keyboard that perform specific tasks that you need to know about in order to be able to fully interact with a web page the same way you could with a mouse.

Firstly to access anything in the menu bar of your browser you simply press the "Alt" key. You can then use the arrow keys to move to the entry in the menu you want and then press the "Enter" key to activate that command. You will also see one letter in each of the menu options is underlined. By holding down the "Alt" key and then pressing the underlined letter in the main menu you can directly open that menu without needing to touch the arrow keys. With the appropriate menu open simply typing the underlined letter will activate that menu entry. You may also see a number of "Ctrl" key shortcuts listed next to menu options that can save you having to type even that much. So instead of typing Alt E F you might be able to access the option directly without even needing to open the menu by holding down the "Ctrl" key and pressing F.

Any other toolbars you may have at the top of your browser can also be accessed from the keyboard but unlike the menu bar there is no special key that takes you straight there. Those toolbars are treated as if they are a part of the current web page and are accessed the same way that the page content is.

The main keys for navigating around the web page (and those toolbars) is the "Tab" key. Pressing the tab key will take you forward one field at a time through all of the fields in the page that you can interact with followed by all the toolbars and then back through the page again. Holding down the "Shift" key while pressing the tab key will take you back through those same fields in the reverse order.

So how do you know what fields you can interact with? Well basically there are two types of fields in the page that you can interact with - links and form fields. So for a page without any forms pressing tab over and over will take you through all of the links in the page. If there are also forms in the page then when it gets to the form it will take you through the input, textarea, and select fields in the form as well. The order in which the fields in a form are accessed as you press the tab key can be changed by the web page owner if they assign tabindex values to the fields in the form. Hopefully if they do that it will be in order to ensure that you process through the fields in an order that makes sense.

How do you tell where you are in the page? Well the browsers display a dotted outline around whichever field in the page currently has the focus and so you can tell where you are by looking to see where the dotted outline is. Unfortunately it is possible for the web page owner to disable this dotted outline and then you have no way to tell where you are on the page. If that is the case I suggest you hold down te "Ctrl" key and press the left arrow key to go back to the previous page and find yourself a different web page with the information that you are after that isn't broken.

How do you actually interact with the fields in the page and the toolbars? Well the first thing you need to do is to tab to the appropriate field so that it has the focus. In the case of input fields and textareas you can then type what you want in the field. In the case of select lists, radio buttons and toolbars you can use the arrow keys to navigate to what you want to select. With checkboxes and radio buttons you use the spacebar to select the current entry (and deselect in the case of checkboxes). To submit forms, activate toolbar options or activate links you press the "Enter" key.

Links have more options available than just the default action of opening the new page in the current browser tab. At the bottom right of your keyboard directly to the left of the "Ctrl" key you will see a key that has a picture of a dropdown menu on it. That is the "contextmenu" key and if you press that key instead of the "Enter" key then it will display the context menu for the currently selected field. When you display this menu for links you will usually have a number of options available such as opening the link in a new tab or window, saving or printing the page it links to, or adding the page to your bookmarks/favourites. When you display it for form input fields you will also get options for copying and pasting content. To select content you can hold down the shift key and press the left or right arrow keys or hold down the "Alt" key and press A to select the entire field.

Overall, the only advantage that the mouse has over the keyboard is that you can move the mouse cursor directly to the field you want to interact with while from the keyboard you need to keep pressing the "Tab" key until you reach the desired field. It doesn't even ave that advantage for any field that has a shortcut key combination assigned


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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