A Visual Studio Quick Guide to Accessibility (Part 1)

One of the most important accessibility aids that also applies to common users is the keyboard accelerator (or keyboard shortcut). In fact, this issue figures prominently in both C# Design and Development and Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. Just why Microsoft decided to turn this feature off in Windows 7 is a complete mystery to me. All of the pertinent examples in Professional Windows 7 Development Guide include keyboard accelerators, but you can’t see them. I’ve received a number of queries about this problem and decided that this two-part post on accessibility for Visual Studio developers is really necessary.

First, let’s discuss the keyboard accelerator from a programming perspective. A keyboard accelerator is the underline you see on a button, label, menu, or other control. You press Alt+Letter to perform the equivalent of a click or selection with the associated control. For example, most people know that you press Alt+F to access the File menu in an application that has keyboard accelerators properly implemented.

To create a keyboard accelerator, the developer precedes the letter or number with an ampersand (the & character). For example, to make the File menu respond to Alt+F, the developer would type &File in the development environment. I’ve always strongly encouraged the use of keyboard accelerators as a must have for any application because many keyboardists are seriously hindered by an application that lacks them. In fact, you’ll find the keyboard accelerators used in the vast majority of my books, even for examples that aren’t related to programming in any way.

Second, some developers who feel as I do about keyboard accelerators are upset that adding them to applications no longer works (apparently). Windows 7 hides the keyboard accelerators for some odd reason known only to Microsoft. The Ribbon interface provides an equivalent when the developer provides it, but we’re talking about all of the applications (the vast majority) that don’t use the Ribbon interface. It turns out that you must manually turn the keyboard accelerator support back on. Follow this steps to accomplish the task manually:

 

  1. Open the Control Panel, followed by the Ease of Access applet. Click the Ease of Access Enter link. You’ll see the list of options shown here:Accessibility0101
  2. Click Make the Keyboard Easier to Use. You’ll see a list of options for making the keyboard easier to use. Near the bottom of the list you’ll see the Underline Keyboard Shortcuts and Access Keys option shown here.
    Accessibility0102
  3. Check this option and then click OK. The system will now display the underlines as before.

One of the biggest questions I had while working through this is whether there is a method for turning this feature on or off at the command line. There isn’t any WMIC command that I’ve found to make the change (nor any other command for that matter), so I’m currently trying to discover the associated registry keys. I’ve found one so far. The On value in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Accessibility\Keyboard Preference key must be changed to 1. However, that value alone doesn’t make the change work, so there are more keys and values to find. If anyone has some clues to provide me about this particular need, please let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In the meantime, I’ll continue looking for the elusive registry updates required to automate this change.