For those who haven’t heard about this in other arenas, I wanted to let readers know that the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has some key opportunities to help shape the future of an accessible web browsing experience. There are two documents that have been released recently that offer opportunities to comment.
WAI-ARIA Last Call
WAI-ARIA defines a way to enhance the accessibility of web applications and user interfaces that are commonplace on the web today. It makes it possible as an example to create a tree view control in HTML and related script and have a screen reader and web browser treat that control like a tree view you may have experienced in a desktop application. Obviously the specification is only part of the story as you need both the web browser and screen reader or other assistive technology to support ARIA as well. Firefox has supported ARIA for a while and the recently released IE8 has added support for ARIA to IE.
You can learn more about the last call ARIA document and some companion documents that talk about adding support to ARIA in a browser and best practices for using the technology starting at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2009JanMar/0037.html. The announcement may indicate that comments were due by 3/24 on the last call document but I know comments are still being accepted beyond that date.
User Agent 2.0 Working Draft Available for Review
The User Agent Accessibility Guidelines Working Group is in the process of updating guidelines on what it means to be an accessible user agent. User agent really means web browser and the guidelines talk about everything from what keyboard access in a web browser should do to how web content should be made available to applications such as screen readers. I’m personally a member of this working group and when I think about the number of web browsing applications that exist today and that will exist five years from now, I think a UAAG 2.0 document is an excellent opportunity for us all to help ensure we can browse the web on all the different devices where it is available. This goes far beyond just the browsers we use on our notebooks, desktops and maybe cell phones today. UAAG 2.0 is still in a development stage and the group has some tough challenges we are tackling. I’d encourage those with an interest in the space to review the current working draft and share feedback. You can learn more starting at http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2009JanMar/0057.html.