Tabbing through controls on the Mac...

Eli Cochran eli at
Fri Aug 17 05:07:28 UTC 2007

For the last two days I've been struggling with re-factoring some web  
front-end code for keyboard accessibility.

Working in Firefox on a new Mac, and following some great  
documentation on the Mozilla site, I couldn't get my page to support  
tabbing to links and buttons. The tab key would jump past them onto  
the first field on the page. (Firefox on the PC worked the way that I  
expected.) I did write some brute-force Javascript to work around the  
problem but the code was getting messy and everything I read on the  
web said that it should just work.

On consulting with Toronto, I discovered that their Mac showed the  
correct tabbing behavior. Oh no, it's just my machine. But wait, I  
try another Mac at the office and, yes, it too will not tab to links  
and buttons.

Finally, I found a blog article pointing me to an obscure little  
setting in Keyboard Shortcuts under the Keyboard & Mouse system  
preferences called Full keyboard access. The default setting is Text  
boxes and lists only but needs to be set to All controls to support  
full tabbing.

My hope is that most users who really need full keyboard control have  
learned about this setting long ago. But I'm distressed that, at  
least on the Mac, keyboard behavior could be quite different for  
different users depending on something over which we have little  

Eli Cochran
user experience developer
ETS, UC Berkeley

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