Viewpoint: Are You a Victim of Accessibility Foolishness?How to enable the ability to test the keyboard in Safari on Mac

The Situation

Some weeks ago, I received a notice that we had a new sign up for our mailing list. I typically do not look at these notices because recently there have been a lot of people signing up, but there was something different with this notification. Upon closer inspection I noticed that the person who filled out the form did not provide real information. Instead this is what was received:

First Name:
Unable to navigate your site

Last Name:
With keyboard alone safari on mac

Email Address:

This clever way of letting us know that we had a potentially blocking issue on our website was not lost on me. In fact, it is something I probably would have done, and I certainly appreciate being informed of a potential issue. My first reaction was, “What? What happened? I checked the keyboard access myself on Safari and there were no issues! What could have changed?”

I immediately logged on to my Mac to investigate what was happening. Then it occurred to me… the person who used our mailing list sign up form to let us know of a potential issue had fallen victim to Accessibility Foolishness! What do I mean by that?

Long ago when I first started testing software, I often failed to do my due diligence to truly understand an issue prior to documenting that issue as a bug. I quickly learned that this approach ultimately created more work for myself and for others, and it made me look like a fool. The moral of the story was for me to make sure I had a full understanding of the issue to determine if it was really an issue and not a PEBKAC error.

As I moved into the accessibility field, I fell victim to Accessibility Foolishness several times. In time, just as before, I quickly learned to put in the effort to understand a potential issue before calling it an issue. While this does take additional effort, it ultimately saves time and resources moving forward. It not only saves my time, but that of others as well. Most importantly, not doing so can impact your credibility as an accessibility professional!

Why Blog About This?

Why am I creating a blog about this? Because with the growth seen in digital accessibility services and the increase in digital accessibility litigation, we are encountering Accessibility Foolishness more often. Because accessibility is new to a lot of people and guidelines such as WCAG can be difficult to understand, misrepresenting an issue is common and can result in a lot of wasted time.

If you are an accessibility professional, it is important to fully understand if an issue is actually an issue before alerting others. If you do not, then you are not only wasting time, but you are also jeopardizing your credibility. If your credibility is questioned, this can have a major impact on you and your customers. A good example of where this can have a huge impact was covered in a blog series about expert witnesses in web accessibility cases by my colleague, Ken Nakata.

If you are looking to hire an accessibility professional, be aware that there are many newcomers to this field and make sure you know the experience level and background of the consultants you are hiring. Doing so will help protect you from wasting resources on Accessibility Foolishness.

Safari Keyboard Support

Back to the issue at hand. What was wrong with the report we received about the lack of keyboard support in Safari? The issue was not with our website, but with a lack of understanding in how Safari on Mac handles keyboard interaction. Therefore, this was a PEBKAC error. The type of situation that highlights Accessibility Foolishness due to not understanding your own technology.

For whatever reason, by default, using the Tab key in Safari on Mac will only highlight the next field or pop-up menu on a webpage. If “Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls” is selected in the Shortcuts pane of the Keyboard pane of System Preferences, then the Tab key also highlights buttons and other controls, but this is not selected by default.

If the individual who reported this to us had investigated this further, they would have realized that the default settings in Safari on Mac would not allow access to all the interactive controls on a webpage. By failing to do so they, in effect, not only spent time reporting a non-issue but also absorbed my time unnecessarily by leading me to investigate it.

If the time was spent to understand the tools being used, the individual would have discovered useful information that would make them more skilled in their accessibility efforts in the Mac environment.

So how to you use the keyboard to access the interactive controls in Safari on a Mac? You can use the Option + Tab keys to achieve this, or you can change the Safari preferences to force the Tab key to set focus to the interactive controls. After opening the Preferences for Safari, go to the Advanced pane and check the box next to “Press Tab to highlight each item on a webpage” as shown in the following screen capture:

Safari Advanced Settings Dialog


Being a victim of Accessibility Foolishness is not uncommon. As mentioned earlier, I have fallen victim to this myself many times. The trick is to learn from our mistakes and to be sure and do our best to understand the tools we are using and how to use them effectively. Doing so increases our skill set as accessibility professionals and helps prevent situations where our credibility can be called into question.

If I have missed something in this post that I should have covered or if I am wrong in my viewpoint, please call me out for my Accessibility Foolishness by adding a comment to this post! While you are at it, why not sign up for our mailing list?

The year 2020 hasn’t been the easiest year for most. I think we all are looking forward to 2021 and hoping for a much better experience in the new year.

If you have read this far, thank you for your support this year and in the years to come!

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