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W3C Announces Roadmap for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA)

W3C's WAI-ARIA Features Will Enable Accessible Dynamic Web Sites

Today, W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) introduces a suite of documents that will make it easier for Web site developers to make dynamic Web content usable to people with disabilities. The First Public Working Drafts of the Accessible Rich Internet Application suite include the WAI-ARIA Roadmap, WAI-ARIA Roles, and WAI-ARIA States and Properties.

"As people are demanding more from the Web - more information, more responsive applications and richer experiences - an explosion in technologies that exclude access to many people is growing. This new suite of documents being rolled out is significant because they will help developers gain access to the tools needed to support persons with disabilities on the Web," explained Rich Schwerdtfeger, IBM Distinguished Engineer and author of the WAI-ARIA Roadmap. "ARIA is our first step to bring the richer, dynamic Web content experience to all users of the Web, by providing technology enhancements and examples for better, more accessible implementations."

Dynamic Web Content Currently Excludes Many Users

Assistive technologies, including screen readers, speech dictation software, and on-screen keyboards help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities. To accomplish this, these tools require information about the semantics of specific portions of a document in order to present those portions in an accessible form. For example, to provide reliable access to a form element, a tool must also be able to recognize the state of that element (for example, whether it is checked, disabled, focused, collapsed, or hidden).

Web sites are increasingly delivering applications with capabilities comparable to locally-installed software. These rich Internet applications make heavy use of scripting, and developers often improvise hybrids of existing technologies, including AJAX, DHTML, JavaScript, and SVG. These applications do not always provide the semantics needed to support these technologies. People with disabilities are therefore at risk of being left out of this new world of information.

The WAI-ARIA Suite Provides Framework for Accessible Dynamic Web Content

The Roadmap for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA Roadmap) describes an overall approach for ensuring interoperability between rich Internet applications and assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. The approach relies on technologies already developed or under development by W3C, such as the XHTML Role Attribute Module. In addition, the WAI-ARIA Roadmap presents a gap analysis identifying technologies that may still be needed to ensure accessible rich Internet applications. Two companion documents explain how to bridge those gaps: Roles for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA Roles) and States and Properties Module for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA States).

"We see a tremendous opportunity for Web developers in ARIA," explained Lisa Seeman of UB Access and editor of WAI-ARIA Roles and WAI-ARIA States. "By providing a system and techniques for making dynamic Web content more accessible, we can give content developers what they need to improve the Web experience for a broader range of people."

Working Group Encourages Early Review and Feedback

The WAI-ARIA Roadmap has been developed within W3C by the Protocols and Formats Working Group (PFWG), which includes industry leaders, research, and disability organizations including Adobe Systems, America Online, Inc., IBM, Opera Software, Oracle Corporation, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and SAP AG. The Working Group is chaired by Al Gilman.

The work of the PFWG serves as part of the technical foundation for W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), making the vision of a Web accessibility for all a reality. PFWG is now focusing its attention on refining the WAI-ARIA suite, with the intention of developing early implementations. W3C invites the Web development community to review and comment on these publications and subsequent drafts on the mailing list.

Marie-Claire Forgue | alfa
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