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WAI: Strategies, guidelines, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities

[DRAFT] Why Standards Harmonization is Essential to Web Accessibility

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Editors' Draft updated: $Date: 2011/06/03 15:51:46 $
Status: This document is an in-progress draft and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. Please send comments to wai-eo-editors@w3.org (a publicly archived list).
The previous version of this document is available at www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/harmon.html.


This document explains the key role that harmonization with international standards plays in increasing accessibility of the Web for people with disabilities. It examines how adoption of a consistent set of international standards, the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines for Web content, authoring tools, browsers and media players can drive more rapid progress on Web accessibility, and make the design and development of accessible Web sites more efficient.

Executive Summary

Although broadly accepted worldwide standards for Web accessibility, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, have existed for a number of years, some national and local governments continue to develop their own standards. This process can hinder progress toward the goal of broad Web accessibility. By harmonizing national and local policies with international Web accessibility standards, it is possible to accelerate the progress of Web accessibility.


The last decade has witnessed a remarkable expansion in the number of people who have access to information on the World Wide Web. Web access has quintupled since 2000, with an astonishing 1.9 billion people, or 28% of the world’s population, now using the Web. However, for the 10% of the world’s population with disabilities – roughly 650 million people - the Web may not be so easily accessed, if at all. Without accessible websites, people with many different types of disabilities – cognition, hearing, sight, movement – may encounter barriers when going about essential tasks on the Web.

Making the Web accessible to people with disabilities is a global challenge that has been addressed through a multi-stakeholder, consensus-based process involving governments, industry, people with disabilities, and researchers. W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is recognized as the world’s leading standard for accessibility of Web content. Adoption of this internationally developed standard has been extensive. At the same time, when national governments develop their own Web accessibility standards, the resulting fragmentation of Web accessibility requirements slows the potential growth of accessible Web content. Divergent guidelines shrink the unified market for supporting authoring and evaluation tools, and impede the re-usability of supporting technical references and training materials. The solution, harmonization of accessibility standards, helps accelerate progress towards the goal of an accessible Web through adoption of the international WCAG standard, while simultaneously addressing the needs of individual localities. This article explores the topic of standards harmonization and how it can address the needs of policy makers, industry, and people with disabilities.

What are Web Accessibility Standards?

@@This section will briefly introduce basic concepts of web accessibility, then WCAG , ATAG, UAAG, and ARIA, and give a quick view of WCAG 2.0 principles.@@

Current Fragmentation Concerns with Web Accessibility

Harmonization: Countering the Fragmentation Trend

Standards harmonization is a solution to the problem of fragmentation. It is possible to address the accessibility concerns of national and local governments while using a worldwide standard. In the harmonization process, a national government adopts WCAG 2.0, and has access to an extensive library of supporting implementation techniques, but can also add their own implementation techniques, and if they wish contribute those for others to use.

Standards harmonization confers numerous advantages:

Harmonization enables Web developers to learn one consistent set of guidelines and implementation techniques, rather than needing to learn many different guidelines

National governments can use their resources for translations as needed, to build local awareness, and to conduct local training and technical assistance, rather than for recreating the W3C’s extensive supporting resources.

The availability and utility of authoring tools, as well as test tools, is a benefit of standards harmonization. Tools that conform to the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG 1.0) are key to making the Web accessible because they streamline and automate the process of creating accessible Web sites. Tool developers face competing priorities when deciding which features to build into their software.

Harmonized standards mean a more unified customer demand, which strengthens the business case for accessibility and can tip the balance towards implementation of more accessibility features in their products. This, in turn, means more rapid availability of authoring and evaluation tools with features supporting production of accessible content.

Harmonizing standards across browsers and authoring tools is mutually reinforcing, creating an overall benefit to the creation of accessible content. When a browser implements Web accessibility features, authoring tool developers have more reason to provide authoring support for those features. 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.

The locality can then also contribute its implementation techniques back to the W3C and have it included as supporting material for WCAG 2.0 going forward.

Moving Forward with Standards Harmonization [@@very drafty]

Governments and organizations that want to harmonize with international Web accessibility standards can use the following elements for a harmonization plan: [@@ most links below to be added]

Scope your standards need – Consider whether the WCAG standard is needed for Web content alone, or whether standards should be adopted for authoring tools (@@ATAG) and browsers (@@UAAG) as well.

Follow the document use criteria - W3C document use policy encourages free re-usability, with acknowledgement and crediting of source. Let us know if questions.

Take advantage of additional freely reusable W3C/WAI resources. The WCAG license provides for free, unlimited use of WCAG 2.0 implementation techniques, and support and training materials. Training and support materials are extensible.

Set conformance targets – WCAG 2.0 specifies three different levels of conformance. Typically, WCAG 2.0 AA is used, to provide an effective level of accessibility support; AAA is infrequently used as a required conformance level.

Develop authorized translations as needed - Become familiar with W3C’s policy for authorized translations.

Submit new implementation techniques - If you develop new implementation techniques, use the WCAG 2.0 Techniques submission process to share them.

Engage with W3C as needed - Disability advocates, Web content creators, site developers, technology industry stakeholders, and policy makers can engage directly with W3C, to learn about and contribute to WAI guidelines and standards.