A new technical standard to ensure so-called ‘rich’ web content – dynamic, interactive features of many modern web pages – can be made more accessible to people with disabilities have been published by the international World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
The Accessible Rich Internet Applications 1.0 specification (WAI-ARIA) has become a W3C ‘Recommendation’ – the body’s term for an official standard.
WAI-ARIA sets out ways such content can be identified, described and controlled by users of assistive technology such as screenreaders, or people who cannot use a mouse. For example it offers a framework for drag-and-drop feature properties that describe drag sources and drop targets.
The new standard is designed to help implement existing web accessibility standards such as WAI’s own Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in a modern context, W3C WAI director Judy Brewer told E-Access Bulletin.
“WAI-ARIA is essentially one way of meeting WCAG 2.0,” Brewer said. “The principles, guidelines and success criteria from WCAG 2.0 remain remarkably stable – so the “rules,” so to speak, haven’t changed. It’s just that there are now more powerful ways to use those in websites and applications because of the availability of ARIA.”
One of the benefits of creating the new ARIA standard and implementation guidance is to ensure developers do not needlessly work in parallel creating their own accessibility solutions for each new interactive web feature, she said.
“Without the WAI-ARIA technology, developers would have to customize their accessibility solutions for different platforms and devices. With ARIA, they get cross-device, cross-platform accessibility support, and can more easily repurpose their content and applications in different settings without losing any accessibility support.”
The specification will now evolve, with a working draft of WAI-ARIA 1.1 already published for consultation ahead of an even stronger 2.0 version, as her team continues to watch how technology changes and keep ahead in the race for accessibility, Brewer said.
“The constant emergence of new technologies requires a lot of vigilance on the part of accessibility experts and advocates”, she said.
“There’s still a tendency for developers of new technologies to forget that people using the web have varied physical, sensory and cognitive capabilities – and that the digital medium provides such an excellent platform for accommodating all of these variations in human functioning if one just remembers to plan for it at the design stage.”