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W3C Initiative Targets Non-Standard Browsing

From: rcn <rcn@fenix2.dol-esa.gov>
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998 10:28:09 -0500
To: "W3c-Wai-Ig@W3.Org" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000b01be0f1a$37fdd160$47c3c8c7@rcn.dol-esa.gov>
From Internet World, November 9, 1998.  I do not have my hardcopy with me,
but I think this is the same article that has Judy's picture on the page.
The URL is http://www.iw.com/print/current/webdev/19981109-w3c.html

W3C Initiative Targets Non-Standard Browsing
By James C. Luh
A number of technologies, such as speech-based browsers, exist to help
computer users with disabilities access the Internet. But in a world of
image maps, scripting, plug-ins, frames, and tables, accessibility
technologies are sometimes confounded when Web developers emphasize
slickness over usability.

That can leave users with disabilities out of the loop and prevent Web sites
from reaching potential visitors and customers. Hence, the World Wide Web
Consortium (W3C)'s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which aims to keep
the Web open to as wide an audience as possible.

"The Web is becoming such a key technology for everyone," said Judy Brewer,
director of the WAI International Program Office. "It's a very frightening
prospect to think of people in the disability community shut out of that."
Brewer said accessibility issues affect users with many types of
disabilities, including visual or hearing impairments and cognitive
disabilities. And accessibility efforts serve more than the people commonly
thought of as "disabled," she said--they also serve the many users who are
not using a standard, mouse- driven graphical browser interface. Now or in
the near future, Brewer said, this could include a user browsing on the LCD
of a mobile phone, or with an "eyes busy" or "hands busy" interface--while
driving, for instance. The WAI therefore addresses accessibility generally
rather than targeting a specific disability or technology, she said. "We
talk about this in terms of universal design," she said.

The WAI addresses accessibility in five principal areas, Brewer said. First,
the WAI works with the W3C's working groups to ensure that the W3C's core
technology specifications are created with accessibility in mind. With the
WAI's assistance, the W3C promotes accessibility during development instead
of patching specifications after the fact. "It's one of the first times that
people with disabilities have been able to get access to a key technology at
the design stage," Brewer said.
Second, the WAI is drafting guidelines for building accessibility-friendly
Web sites and software; two lists are currently in the working draft stage.
The page-author guidelines recommend practices for authoring accessible HTML
pages, such as providing alternate text for images and audio, and designing
pages that can be navigated with a device other than a mouse, such as a
keyboard or voice browser. The user-agent guidelines are designed to help
browser makers build software that promotes accessibility--by letting a user
override an author's style sheets, for example.

A forthcoming set of authoring-tool guidelines, Brewer said, will aim to
help vendors build accessibility-friendly tools, like HTML editing tools
that prompt for alternate text for inline images or check finished pages for
accessibility.
A third aim of the WAI's efforts, Brewer said, is to create software tools
or adapt existing tools to test sites for accessibility and fix less
accessible sites. Some tools are already available. The Center for Applied
Special Technology's Bobby, for example, automatically checks submitted URLs
against WAI page-authoring guidelines.

The other two mandates of the WAI, Brewer said, are to increase awareness
and to track outside accessibility-oriented research efforts.

Brewer said the WAI's outreach efforts are making substantial progress.
"More and more people are asking about Web accessibility when I talk to
professional content developers," she noted. She said Web developers'
initial inquiries are often driven by regulatory requirements, such as the
Americans With Disabilities Act or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of
1973.
Web accessibility is improving, but it still has a long way to go, Brewer
said. "I'd say awareness is increasing. Whether or not the extent of
accessibility has increased on the Web is another question." She said that
with a few exceptions, like SoftQuad Inc.'s HotMetal Pro, authoring tools
have lagged. "I'm not seeing as much reaction, as much response from
authoring tool manufacturers as I would have expected at this stage," Brewer
said.

"The fact that the W3C has this initiative is great," said Russ Holland,
program director of the Alliance for Technology Access, which provides
technology assistance to people with disabilities. "We'll be one step ahead
of where we have been in the past." Holland said he hopes the WAI helps
dispel misconceptions developers have about making Web pages accessible.
"They tend to feel they've got to abandon their creativity and make the
stuff really plain," Holland said. "That's not the case."
Received on Friday, 13 November 1998 10:28:11 GMT

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