Date: February 97.
Access to the World Wide Web by people with disabilities could be significantly improved by changes to the Web's supporting protocols, applications and, most importantly, content.
In order to fulfill its mission, i.e. realize the full potential of the Web, W3C must promote a high degree of usability for people with disabilities, and to that effect proposes the creation of this Project with its associated International Program Office, for coordinating five Web-related activities:
At a recent meeting hosted (and called for) by the U.S. Government at the White House (see participant list in Annex), this International Program Office proposal was presented and W3C was clearly designated as the ideal host for such a program. Five keywords were put forward to justify this choice: International, Centralized, Consensus, Predictability, and Participation.
This briefing package details the context of such a project, the exact purpose of these five areas of activity, and the expected planning (time, resource, and external funding).
The emergence of the World Wide Web has made it possible for individuals with appropriate computer and telecommunications equipment to interact as never before. The Web is the stepping stone, the infrastructure, which will pave the way for next generation interfaces. Part of the W3C's commitment to realize the full potential of the Web is to promote a high degree of usability for people with disabilities.
The current situation in that area is not very good and is getting worse everyday as more and more people rush into the Web business without any awareness of the new limitations and frontiers they may create. No single disability population is unaffected. For example:
Worldwide, there are more than 750 million people with disabilities. A significant percentage of that population is affected by the emergence of the Web, directly or indirectly. For those without disabilities, the Web is a new technology that can help unify geographically dispersed groups. But these barriers put the Web in danger of disenfranchising people with disabilities in this emerging infrastructure.
Furthermore, even those without disabilities would benefit from many changes motivated by the needs of people with disabilities. When driving a car, for example, the driver may wish to browse the Web for information (movie schedules, etc.) using a voice-based interface similar to that used by the blind.
Since its inception, the W3C has had an official activity area devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities, thanks to the continuous effort of Mike Paciello of the Yuri Rubinski Insight Foundation (see our Accessibility pages). While the members of the Consortium have supported this area, it has not yet received significant resources. W3C believes that it is now time to address these problems.
When considering a host organization to promote Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities, the World Wide Web Consortium offers many advantages.
First, we are the caretakers of the core Web protocols, and we can continue to serve as a neutral body, reaching consensus among the industry to
We are also International by nature, with Member representatives worldwide and permanent staff in Europe, the Pacific Rim, and the U.S.
In the Accessibility area, education is one of the most important factors for success. One of the earliest roles of W3C was educational, acting as a repository of information about the World Wide Web for developers and users, especially specifications about the Web.
The W3C Accessibility activity statement says: "All the protocols and languages we issue as Recommendations should meet or exceed established accessibility goals. In addition, we will actively encourage the development of Web software and content that is accessible to people with most disabilities." To meet these goals, the W3C staff recommends to their membership that W3C take on three roles with respect to accessibility:
The staff of the World Wide Web Consortium proposes the creation of a new Project and an associated International Program Office to motivate, fund, and coordinate work aimed at making the Web accessible to those with disabilities. The Project itself consists of an Interest Group, a Coordination Group, and several Working Groups (the precise set of Working Groups will vary over time as deemed necessary by the Coordination Group). Instead of the usual Pilot that is associated with a W3C Project, we propose a semi-independent International Program Office whose role is to coordinate the technical work of the W3C Project with other work at individual companies, national governments, and key disability organizations.
One important role of this International Program Office will be to sensitize content creators. We don't want to do just the technical piece and in fact we believe that without this content provider outreach aspect (through education and tools upgrade), the technical project alone is not worth running.
We recognize that several efforts, funded by various government agencies and supported by various disability organizations, are already in place. We do not seek to supplant or replace these commendable efforts. Rather, the intent of this proposal is to complement and coordinate those projects, while funding the areas of Web accessibility development that are not currently supported. A critical objective of this proposal is to enable the W3C to act as an important resource for, and partner with, governments and disability organizations worldwide whose mission statement includes access to the Web for people with disabilities.
To adequately address the Accessibility problem a number of organizations that do not normally work together must coordinate their activities. These include the W3C and its member organizations, government agencies and non-profit organizations dealing with people with disabilities, as well as technology companies that directly address this market segment.
We believe that the work can be divided into five major areas, with careful cross-coordination between the organizations and companies working in each area.
This area is centered on Web protocols and data formats, especially HTML, CSS, HTTP, PICS and PEP. Since the Program Office is intended to concentrate on Web (rather than general computer) accessibility, we do not expect work on physical devices, etc. The work of the W3C, since its inception, has concentrated on precisely these technologies, and we see this work as core to W3C's focus and mission. We see the following initial work items in this area:
The key to making the Web accessible is making sure that the content is produced in a way that keeps the needs of people with disabilities in mind. There are two kinds of tools that are critical to making this happen: authoring tools that prompt and remind content creators about the needs of people with disabilities, and tools for checking that standards for accessibility have been met.
The International Program Office must work with vendors of tools to encourage them to take the needs of people with disabilities into account. This is a role that W3C has played to a certain extent in the PICS work and in work on Distributed Authoring and Versioning. But, in general, this kind of work with W3C member companies has not been seen as central to most areas. While W3C can work effectively in this area, it can do so only with the cooperation of the individual members - W3C holds no "stick" with which to force members into compliance; and especially so on issues that do not relate to interoperability with other Web agents.
The primary initial work item here is the development of a Style Guide for tool developers: items that they should provide in their user interface to make it easy for content creators to "do the right thing" for people with disabilities. Developing this Style Guide (as well as the one mentioned in C., below) will lead to suggestions for specific tools, which may be integrated into authoring environments, for validating accessibility of content.
There are several existing guidelines for the use of HTML for people with disabilities, but these are rapidly falling behind the technology. There is confusion in the industry because there are several, incompatible, sets of guidelines. The industry needs a mechanism for generating either a single set of guidelines or (at worst) several compatible sets of guidelines, and, most importantly, for keeping the guidelines up-to-date as the technology evolves. These guidelines are not trivial - they depend on a wide range of factors, including
W3C does not, as a general rule, deal with producing style guidelines. We concentrate on "mechanism, not policy" and have allowed the market to shape the use of our technologies. On the other hand, the W3C does attempt to provide mechanisms for this purpose (the ALT attribute of IMG is one example, allowing for descriptive text attached to an image) and does attempt to make it clear that this mechanism should be used to maximum advantage. We see a clear role of educating the community about good use of the technology, but it would not be reasonable to say that this has been a central focus for our efforts to date.
As mentioned above, the primary issue is making sure that Web content is produced in a form accessible to people with disabilities. We do not believe that this process can be completely automatic, even given good authoring tools; it requires attention on the part of the designer to needs of a community that is all-too-often ignored. The key to success here is a combination of tools that make it easy to do the right thing, and education that reinforces the importance of using the tools routinely and correctly.
We see this as the major externally funded activity called for by this proposal. While we believe that this is perhaps the most important aspect of the work, it is not something that falls easily within W3C's existing role. Clearly, part of this work should happen as part of the training program that comes with any Web authoring tool. But part of this work goes beyond individual tools, and is part of the traditional role of government: sensitizing the key players (content providers, in this case) to the needs of an important minority population with special needs.
The other areas of this proposal deal with work that has developed to the point where industry-wide standardization is reasonable. But there is a great deal of work that has not reached this point and which requires funding. Just as an example of this work, the development of automatic certification tools for Web content needs to be encouraged, as does work on making accessibility a goal for scripting interfaces to HTML display tools.
W3C participates in both advanced development and research projects, as do all of its host institutions (INRIA, Keio University, and MIT).
W3C Projects usually consist of an interest group, a coordination group, several working groups (composition changing over time), and an associated Pilot Project. This Project follows this general form, initially consisting of:
Membership in each Working Group is restricted, as usual at W3C, to members who make a commitment of resources. In this case, members must commit to participation in a one-hour conference call every other week (for each Working group). They must also agree to produce deliverables (typically written drafts for consideration by the group) in a timely manner as agreed by the group itself. Each Working Group is free to schedule face-to-face meetings, not to exceed once each quarter, at which attendance is also required. The W3C Project Manager is charged with scheduling these meetings in a way that minimizes their expense and maximizes their productivity.
Once these working groups have established their own internal structure they will elect representatives to an overall Coordination Group for the Project. From its inception, however, the Project will have a subgroup (consisting of the Project Manager and the chairs of each Working Group) that will function as the interim Coordination Group until a formal election can be held. The Project Manager, in consultation with the Coordination Group, shall be empowered to create, redirect, or disband Working Groups as necessary to maintain the work on the Project.
The International Program Office is autonomously funded to act as a coordination body for work in this area both inside and outside W3C. The Director of the IPO, while reporting to the Director of W3C, will be solely in charge of the external funds allocated to the IPO. As such, the Project Manager for W3C reports to the Director of the IPO and will coordinate work on the W3C Project with external projects sponsored by the IPO. The Director of the IPO will work with the Project Manager to ensure the full and participation of all the Disability Organizations that have provided their support to this project (the initial list of these organizations is given in an Annex and is expected to grow during the project lifetime)
This Project must be reviewed by the W3C member organizations and is then subject to approval by the Director of the W3C. Assuming that these conditions are met, we expect to have a launching meeting at or adjacent to the 6th International World Wide Web Conference in April 1997. The Conference will take place at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara California. The Project launch meeting will be held at a nearby location within one week of the Conference; the date and location will be announced to all W3C members by February 21, 1997.
Working groups will start operating soon after the meeting and deliverable timelines will be defined at the beginning of each activity. All Working Groups will be chartered and no Working Group will have a task that lasts for more than 6 months. The Interest Group and Coordination Group, however, are expected to last for the duration of the Project, a minimum of three years from the start date. Within one month of the start of the Project the Project Manager will announce to all W3C members the initial structure of the Project, the Charters of the initial working groups, the companies participating in the project, and the initial schedule for the Working Groups. The Project manager will maintain this information on the W3C web site and will provide a progress report at each Advisory Committee meeting while the project continues. The Director of the International Program Office will be invited to attend all Advisory Committee meetings, and will report as agreed by the Director of the W3C.
Under normal circumstances, W3C would suggest the creation of a Project to address only the technical agenda proposed in this briefing package. This would require the commitment of a project manager, a senior protocol designer, and a junior engineer. All of this time allocation is within the existing budget of the W3C.
With the strong interest of the U.S. government and a number of organizations (see the Annex) that represent persons with disabilities, however, we believe that the W3C should go further. The creation of the International Program Office, to be funded by outside money but housed within W3C, will require a full-time Program Officer (i.e. Director of the IPO), and will require the following additional staff:
In addition, of course, there is funding required for travel, computers, network, and general overhead items. There is a requirement for administrative support as well. Based on salary, general expenses, and overhead at MIT, we estimate that the full budget for the entire project (including IPO) will be around $1,000,000 per year.
We propose that W3C fund, from its existing membership fees, the technical component of this project (i.e. items 1 through 3). This leaves the salary of the Program Officer and items 5 through 8 to be covered by alternative sources. There are four funding sources that can be tapped for these expenses (which come to approximately $750,000 per year).
We propose that the W3C fund the core technology work for this project from its membership dues. The Project Manager (Daniel Dardailler) along with the W3C management team should seek external funding for the remaining items. In particular, we expect that Jim Miller (domain leader for Technology and Society) should spend up to 25% of his time over the next 6 months to locate this external funding. The W3C membership should be kept informed through the newsletter and Web site of progress on locating funding as well as progress toward locating a Director of the IPO.
One important note: If we cannot raise the overall expected
funding, and therefore cannot in the end run a viable project, as described
in the briefing package (including coordination, education, and technical
aspects, taken together), we will not proceed beyond the initial launch
This meeting was arranged by Tom Kalil, Senior Director to the National Economic Council (White House), and Mike Paciello (Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation) with the intent to bring together some key players in the industry and academia, and to position W3C as the central organization directing web accessibility for people with disabilities.
David Capozzi, U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance
Carl Cargill, Netscape Communications Corporation
Audrey Choi, FCC
Daniel Dardailler, W3C
Larry Goldberg, WGBH
Joseph Hardin, NCSA
Scott Isaacs, Microsoft Corporation
Steve Jacobs, NCR
Tom Kalil, National Economic Council
Murray Maloney, SoftQuad, Inc./YRIF
Jim Miller, W3C
Howard Moses, OSERS
Mike Paciello, Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation
Dave Raggett, W3C
Larry Scadden, NSF
Gary Strong, NSF
Gregg Vanderheiden, Trace Research and Development Center
Kate Seelman, NIDRR
Providing additional motivation to build accessibility into the Web's infrastructure are certain legal standards and requirements (current and proposed). Many of these requirements already exist in US and other national laws. There is work in Europe to extend the national laws into a pan-European framework that would, presumably, also be considered for adoption worldwide.
Following is a brief list of existing U.S. laws that affect the accessibility of the World Wide Web for people with disabilities:
The following organizations make up some key "players" in the area of web access for people with disabilities. All of these organizations and corporations are deeply involved in Web accessibility development and activities. In order to launch a successful program that is geared towards designing and developing access to the Web for people with disabilities, it is imperative that the W3C establish a collaborative relationship with them.
We are in the process of contacting these organizations and others, to make them aware of our plan and get their support for our project. The few we have contacted so far are all supportive of this initiative and have send us letter to express their formal backup.
We will make the full list of supportive organizations available before the launch meeting in April.