Where Will Your Tab Stops Take You Today?

As some of you might know, I’m particularly lazy. When my hands are on the keyboard, I don’t like to reach all the way over to that mouse to do something, so I pay especial attention to hot keys and tab stops. And apparently, I am one of the few people to do so.

If I have a couple minutes and want to vex the developers, I start checking the tab stops in the applications I test.

Here’s what I like to check:

  • Navigational elements (links and headings that expand divs) have tab stops as do the form controls (buttons, check boxes, radio buttons, text areas, and the like.
  • Make sure when navigational elements and controls appear, such as if the user expands a form or chooses an option that displays dependent controls, that the new items have tab stops.
  • The tabs stop order makes sense. Sometimes IDEs assign tab stops as the controls are added to a designer. Sometimes, developers add controls after the initial form design that don’t get tab stops or get tab stops at the end of the tab order instead of in the place where the form displays on the page.
  • Ensure hidden controls do not appear in the tab order. Just this morning, I found a tab stop for a hidden button and, using the space bar to click the button, I triggered an inappropriate action.
  • Controls have visible focus indicators. Although I’m savvy enough to look to the status bar to see if focus is set to a link, your users are not super users, so make sure your application gives them a hand by showing them where the focus is. And note the effects of the focus indicator: make sure it’s not resizing the control with focus and bumping everything else.
  • Tab order is reversed if you go backwards. SHIFT+TAB should take you in reverse order. Make sure it does.
  • Tabbing doesn’t get trapped in third-party controls. Things like calendar date pickers and stuff might come from outside your organization. Make sure when your developers use them that the keyboard user does not get stuck in the controls with no way out.

Remember the tab stop and keep it wholly for my benefit.

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