W3C Issues First Public Draft of Browser Accessibility Guidelines

WAI Develops Key Step Toward Improving Web Browsing for People with Disabilities

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http://www.w3.org/ -- 18 June, 1998 -- Furthering efforts to ensure that the millions of people with disabilities world wide have access to the Web, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) today issued the first public Working Draft of the WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent specification. Developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to improve usability for all who access the Web, the guidelines focus on different aspects of browser design, particularly the user interface. "The WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent specification will provide guidance to manufacturers of browsers and multimedia players to ensure that people with disabilities can use their products," explained Judy Brewer, Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative International Program Office.

The WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent specification offers guidance on presentation adjustability; orientation information; navigation and control; organization of accessibility features; and compatability with a variety of technologies. In addition, the guidelines highlight key elements of HTML 4.0 and Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 (CSS2) where implementation in browsers is critical to ensure support for accessibility.

Broad Implementation Support

WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agents is being developed by the WAI User Agent Working Group, which includes participation from industry and invited experts from disability and research organizations. The WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent specification will assist browser manufacturers in addressing a key sector of the Web marketplace:

"Microsoft's Internet Explorer product team fully supports the efforts of the WAI and has been actively involved in the development of these guidelines.  Internet Explorer 4.01 already implements many of these guidelines, as well as many of the accessibility features of HTML 4.0," said Kathy Hewitt, Accessibility Program Manager for Internet Explorer, Microsoft Corporation.

"Opera Software is committed to making the Internet available to all. We regularly include people with diverse disabilities in our Beta-testing programs, and have already implemented accessibility features such as full keyboard support," said Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera Software. "We welcome the coordinated guidance which the WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent will give us for further development of the Opera Browser."

Ray Ingram, Executive Vice President, The Productivity Works, Inc. said, "the User Agent guidelines are a major step forward in providing a consistent way for the information on Web pages to be interpreted in an accessible manner. Improved user agent accessibility, which includes capabilities specific to non-visual access, will bring the benefits of the Web to a much broader population.  This permits interaction appropriate to the needs and abilities of the user as well as opens the Web to a new generation of Web access devices such as the telephone and public information kiosks. We fully support this work and are committed to continuing our efforts to enhance accessibility for all our products."

"We are happy that the W3C has continued its achievements by publishing this draft of the browser guidelines," said Chuck King, new product manager from IBM Special Needs Systems. "We encourage the more than 250 consortium members, all Web browser manufacturers, and any developers of Internet user agents to review these guidelines and participate in making the Web more accessible to persons with disabilities."

Answering a Critical Need

The Working Draft is the result of a collaborative effort between disability organizations, industry, and research organizations that are involved in the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. "These guidelines, which we are developing in cooperation with browser manufacturers, will clarify priorities for browser design with regard to usability for people with disabilities. We welcome public feedback while this is in Working Draft status," said  Jon Gunderson, Chair of the WAI User Agent Guidelines Working Group and Coordinator of Assistive Communication and Information Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Blind or visually impaired people should be able to navigate the Web as quickly and comfortably as our sighted colleagues do," said Scott Marshall, Vice President for the American Foundation for the Blind. "The guidelines created by the User Agent working group represent a significant step forward toward the creation of more accessible Web browsers and related applications. A browser that includes the features specified in these Guidelines will improve access to Web-based information and interaction for persons who are blind or visually impaired, as well for other disability groups."

WAI Accessibility Guidelines

The "WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent" Working Draft is part of a series of WAI Accessibility Guidelines which together address page authoring, browsers, and authoring tools. In addition to the "WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent" Working Draft, the WAI Accessibility Guidelines also includes the following two specifications:

The Web Accessibility Initiative and International Program Office

The W3C's WAI Accessibility Guidelines are just one aspect of a multi-part approach to improve the accessibility of the Web, in partnership with organizations around the world.  The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative is addressing Web accessibility through five primary areas of work: ensuring that the core technologies of the Web support accessibility; developing guidelines for page authoring, user agents, and authoring tools; developing evaluation and repair tools for accessibility; conducting education and outreach; and tracking research and development that can affect the future accessibility of the Web.

The Web Accessibility Initiative International Program Office is sponsored by the US National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; the European Commission's TIDE Programme, and W3C industry Members including IBM/Lotus Development Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, NCR, and Riverland Holding.

For more information on the Web Accessibility Initiative, please see http://www.w3.org/WAI .

About the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]

The W3C was created to lead the Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. It is an international industry consortium jointly run by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) in the USA, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in France and Keio University in Japan. Services provided by the Consortium include: a repository of information about the World Wide Web for developers and users; reference code implementations to embody and promote standards; and various prototype and sample applications to demonstrate use of new technology. To date, more than 260 organizations are Members of the Consortium.

For more information about the World Wide Web Consortium, see http://www.w3.org/

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