Accessibility 4: Shortcuts

When I was young, available computers were the BBC Acorn and the Sinclair Spectrum. Coding was ‘programming’. To use the computer, you had to know how to ‘program’ it (we used the American spelling). Now computers have a visual interface — the imaginary page, or window, of the screen. Multi-player games when I was young meant programming instructions and waiting 15 minutes for each next move in the game to get processed.

The WC3 was founded in 1994, the year that CERN made the World Wide Web available free of charge to the world (or to that part of humanity with access to computers, anyway). Speech recognition software had begun in 1990, which was the same year as Windows.

What was also invented in 1990 was the first version of hypertext mark-up language — HTML — code into which all sorts of commands could be put so that whatever language you spoke, whatever computer you used, the screen showed the right effects. It was a silent Latin, for the whole world to use; a lingua franca, in days when not the Franks but the technologists were setting out the rules.

What you saw would be what you got, because the code now existed to represent on a TV monitor exactly what you would get when you sent things to print. Instead of several machines with different specialists at each one — the compositors, typesetters and printers of old — there was one ‘print’ button to press.

In the 1980s, a ‘slug’ of type could be ordered in one room and made in another. By the 1990s, whole pages could be printed out just as they were on some side office or upstairs computer screen. Windows 3 (and since) has been a huge set of shortcuts. It helps to remember that. Accessibility doesn’t require technical wizard ability. You just need to know the principles and the shortcuts.

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Proofreader, editor, writer — in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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