Note: This document is a draft [see change log in progress] and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. This document is under development by the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG).
This document explains the key role that harmonization of standards plays in increasing accessibility of the Web for people with disabilities. It examines how adoption of a consistent standard for Web content accessibility would drive more rapid development of authoring tools that support production of accessible Web content, making design and development of accessible Web sites more efficient.
This document also explains how adoption of a consistent standard for browser and media player accessibility would improve access to and reinforce the accessibility of Web content, and help ensure that accessible content will be more available through assistive technologies used by some people with disabilities.
In this document "standards harmonization" refers to the adoption of
a consistent international set of technical standards for accessibility
of Web content; for accessibility of browsers and media players; for
production of accessible content by authoring tools used to develop Web
content, and accessibility of the authoring tools themselves.
Around the world there is currently fragmentation -- multiple,
divergent technical standards -- rather than
harmonization of Web accessibility standards. While W3C's Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0) is the most broadly adopted Web
internationally, many countries have developed or are in the process of
own versions of technical guidelines or standards.
Furthermore, there is sometimes one version of a guideline or standard at the national level, different versions at the provincial or state level, and yet different versions adopted by commercial, educational, and non-governmental organizations within the same country. For organizations with audiences spanning different regions or economic sectors, simply keeping track of the different requirements can be a challenge.
Harmonization of Web accessibility standards is key to making an accessible Web because it creates a unified market for authoring tools which produce conformant content, and this unified market drives more rapid development of improved authoring tools. Improved authoring tools make it easier to create accessible Web sites, and to repair previously inaccessible sites, for instance by prompting for accessibility information such as alternative text for graphics, captions for audio, or summaries for data tables. Widespread availability of improved authoring tools can enable accessible design to become the prevailing design mode, even for Web developers minimally aware of the rationale for Web accessibility, or disinclined to learn the guidelines and techniques for accessibility.
Standards harmonization also creates a more attractive market for developers of tools used to evaluate Web content accessibility. It enables re-use of training and technical assistance resources for Web accessibility across different regions and economic sectors. Standards harmonization enables better access to information through browsers and media players, and better interoperability with specialized technologies that some people with disabilities must rely on. It enables development of information repositories containing accessible, compatible, and re-usable content.
The World Wide Web Consortium
(W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative
(WAI) has developed:
Together these three WAI guidelines provide mutually reinforcing
solutions which result in more comprehensive and effective
continues to advance these three guidelines by updating and refining
them as Web technologies evolve.
Different types of modifications (fragmentation) of Web
accessibility guidelines can impact progress on Web
accessibility in the following ways:
For Web developers using today's authoring tools, development of accessible Web sites first requires an awareness of the need for Web accessibility, then a deliberate effort to apply WCAG 1.0. It may require working around features of authoring tools that make it hard to build accessible Web sites. For instance, some authoring tools still produce non-standard markup. Authoring tools that conform to ATAG 1.0 would provide built-in support for production of accessible Web sites.
Development of accessible Web sites with today's authoring tools may
also require Web developers to work around inconsistent support of Web
standards needed for accessibility support in
browsers and media players. For instance, inconsistent initial support
in browsers for Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) features, such as
CSS positioning, led many Web developers to rely on less accessible
solutions for layout for many years. Browsers and media players that
conformed to UAAG 1.0 would provide reliable support for accessibility
features, making the jobs of Web developers much easier.
Web developers must already learn a variety of Web languages and
tools in order to be competitive in their field. Harmonization of Web
accessibility standards enables Web developers to learn one consistent
set of guidelines and implementation technique, rather than needing to
learn many different guidelines; and
allows them to re-use training and technical assistance resources among
Increased availability of authoring tools conforming to the
Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG 1.0) is key to
making the Web accessible because with such tools, Web content
developers could more easily and more automatically create
accessible Web sites.
Authoring tool developers face competing priorities when deciding which features to build into their software. Product managers' decisions with regard to which features are included in product releases are frequently based on the extent of demand for a given set of features throughout their customer base. Harmonized standards mean a more unified customer demand. This strengthens the business case for accessibility for authoring tool developers and can tip the balance towards implementation of more accessibility features in their products. This, in turn, means more rapid availability of authoring tools with features supporting production of accessible content.
Developers of evaluation tools (used to evaluate the accessibility of Web content) are also impacted by fragmented standards which can delay or increase the development cost of evaluation tools. In some cases, additional time needed to implement evaluation tests for multiple versions of guidelines takes away from development time that could otherwise be used to increase the accuracy of evaluation tools, or the usability of the tools themselves.
Harmonized Web accessibility standards allow developers of accessibility evaluation tools to concentrate their efforts on implementing one set of evaluation tests rather than multiple tests for overlapping or conflicting guidelines and standards in different regions or sectors where their products are used. Improved evaluation tools enable more people to test Web sites more reliably, and help ensure more accessible Web sites.
When there is
fragmentation of standards, organizations with audiences spanning
different regions, countries, or sectors must monitor
multiple sets of requirements. Organizations may need to provide
authoring tools, evaluation tools, training resources and technical
assistance for their Web developers, which can take resources away from
actually implementing accessibility. The increase in cost and effort
due to the fragmented standard may make it more difficult to secure
acceptance within the organization of the business case for
Harmonized Web accessibility standards, on the other hand, allow these organizations to re-use authoring and evaluation tools, training, and technical assistance throughout the organization, thereby achieving more cost-effective accessibility solutions.
Harmonization of Web accessibility standards is also a concern with regard to browsers and media players. Conflicting standards for browser accessibility can slow implementation of accessibility support. The current lack of browsers and media players conforming to the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (UAAG 1.0) makes it harder for people with disabilities to access information on Web sites, and to find and use accessibility features that are included in some browsers.
Some of today's browsers and media players do not provide access to
accessibility information that a Web content developer may have
included in a Web site, for instance long descriptions of complex
visuals such as maps and graphs, or summaries of information in data
tables. UAAG 1.0 describes how browers and media players can enable
access to such information when it is present.
UAAG 1.0 also describes requirements for browsers and media players that can work smoothly with assistive technologies which some people with disabilities use -- such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and voice recognition software.
Implementation of accessibility standards in browsers and authoring tools is mutually reinforcing. Once browser developers implement Web accessibility features, authoring tool developers have more reason to provide authoring support for those features. For instance, once browsers provide access to summaries of data tables, authoring tool developers then have a stronger rationale to provide a means for content developers to add summaries to tables. Similarly, browser developers are influenced by what authoring tools support, and are more likely to implement accessibility features once they know that authoring tools will provide the relevant authoring support.
Online information repositories allow individuals and organizations to pool content, for instance for the creation of re-usable online learning modules. If the content in an information repository conforms to a consistent accessibility standard, then that content can be shared among an unlimited number of users, and re-purposed and personalized according to user profiles which may include information on prefered learning styles and the accessibility requirements of users with disabilities. With harmonized standards for accessibility of content in the information repository, educators and learners are able to freely transform shared resources according to user needs.
W3C continues to update and refine the WAI guidelines and supporting techniques documents and other resources to keep pace with evolving Web technologies. In addition it is addressing factors which have contributed to fragmentation in the past, such as the lack of an authorized translation process.
WAI is currently developing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 with broad international participation, and with the intent that WCAG 2.0 will be easier to understand and easier to implement; will be more precisely testable; and will address more advanced Web technologies. Broad public feedback on Working Drafts of WCAG 2.0, as well as other WAI guidelines and resources, helps ensure that these documents will continue to meet a broad spectrum of needs.
The following steps can increase the international harmonization of Web accessibility standards, and help lead more rapidly to an accessible Web:
Last updated 1 March 2006 by Judy Brewer.
Editor: Judy Brewer. Contributors: Participants of EOWG.
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