W3C Issues Guidelines to Extend Benefits of the Web to a Broader Community

Web Accessibility Initiative Draft Guidelines Make Web More Accessible

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CAMBRIDGE, MA, USA -- 3 February, 1998 -- The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) today issued the first public working draft of the WAI Accessibility Guidelines: Page Authoring, one part of the solution which the Web Accessibility Initiative [WAI] is pursuing to ensure that the millions of people with disabilities worldwide have access to the benefits of the Web. "The Page Authoring Guidelines reflect the accessibility improvements in HTML 4.0, and are an outcome of a collaboration among industry, disability and research organizations, as well as governments from around the world," explained Judy Brewer, Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative International Program Office. "The W3C WAI Markup Guidelines Working Group is developing these guidelines as a key reference for Web authors and site builders who want to ensure that their Web sites can be reached by the broadest possible audience."

WAI Accessibility Guidelines: the Road Map for Accessible Design

Using HTML 4.0 and Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 (CSS2) as a foundation, the WAI Page Authoring Guidelines provide strategies to improve the accessibility of document structure, navigation, and alternative formating of content. Much of the guidance applies to earlier versions of HTML as well. Examples of covered topics include images and image maps, audio and video, tables, links, frames, and user-input forms. The guidelines include several suggestions for how to test accessibility of Web sites, and conclude with a brief accessibility checklist.

"I've been writing accessibility guidelines for years, and never imagined this kind of progress," said Gregg Vanderheiden, Director of the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and co-chair of the W3C WAI Markup Guidelines Working Group. "In the WAI Markup Guidelines Working Group, we have made more progress in three months than we ordinarily would in three years. We are already getting feedback that these Web accessibility guidelines are so much clearer and more usable than guidelines available previously."

The HTML 4.0 Recommendation includes a number of changes which facilitate accessibility of Web pages. Most significantly, the HTML 4.0 specification makes a strong distinction between structure and presentation through integration of style sheets. Alternative text is now required for images; and new constructs enable more detailed textual description of images, image maps, tables and frames. HTML 4.0 provides a means for more structured forms and form menus, better support for keyboard navigation, and provides mechanisms for more understandable audio rendering of tables.

Paul W. Schroeder, Director of the National Technology Program, American Foundation for the Blind, added, "HTML 4.0 provides a robust and convenient structure for ensuring equal access to a great deal of Web content for people who are blind or visually impaired and for others who primarily rely on keyboard navigation or text-only displays. We encourage content developers to use the new Page Author Guidelines issued by the WAI as a handy reference on how to take full advantage of important features such as text descriptions of images and alternative presentation of tabular information."

"The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is pleased that W3C has taken steps with the of HTML 4.0 enabling inclusion of disabled people in the World Wide Web community. If corporations and individuals now actively take advantage of the opportunities offered by including the improvements of HTML 4.0 in their products and Web sites they will be demonstrating their commitment to true 'design for all'," said Jillian Harvey, Assistant to the Director of Technical Consumer Services at RNIB. "RNIB urges chief executives to prioritize adoption of these standards."

The W3C HTML Validation Service [http://validator.w3.org/ ] validates Web pages against the HTML 4.0 Recommendation, including checking for "alt" (alternative content) tags for images, now required under HTML 4.0. The Validation Service will be updated according to the guidelines produced by the WAI Guidelines Working Groups.

Broad Implementation Support

Some of the biggest improvements in accessibility will come from full implementations of HTML 4.0 and CSS2; the WAI is looking forward to major browser and authoring tool manufacturers' implementations of these accessibility improvements.

"As we move into a universally connected world, where education, jobs, services and entertainment are all enabled via the Web, it is critical to provide technology that enables all Web users. Leveraging our tradition of enabling technologies, and as an author for both the new accessibility guidelines and the enhancements to HTML 4.0, IBM is committed to ensuring that all users, including those with disabilities, will be able to fully leverage the power of Web," said John Patrick, Vice President of Internet Technology at IBM.

"Microsoft is a founding sponsor and active member of the WAI's efforts and continues to be support in the area of full Web accessibility. Internet Explorer 4.01 is extremely accessible and includes many of the features contained in the HTML 4.0 specification, and Microsoft will continue to improve its browser for use by people with disabilities," said Luanne LaLonde, Accessibility Product Manager at Microsoft. "After all, many of these features are useful for all users, not just those with disabilities, so our accessibility work benefits a wide range of the Internet population."

The WAI Page Authoring Guidelines are part of a comprehensive set of guidelines with broad applicability, and are being lauded as instrumental where accessibility is an added value feature, an expectation, or a requirement.

"We feel that designing more accessible Internet-based solutions will be a tremendous service to our clients. The guidelines set forth by the Web Accessibility Initiative are invaluable in helping us adapt projects and services accordingly," added Phill Christian, Partner, Systems Design Group, USWeb Corporation.

"The WAI Page Authoring Guidelines give a consolidated look at all the issues facing users with disabilities that designers should keep in mind when developing sites. The efforts of the WAI dovetail perfectly with our goals as an educational organization to give us quality material to pass on to our membership. We will make sure that our designers get the message," said Ann Navarro, Governing Board Member for the HTML Writers Guild, the largest international Web developers group.

"The Federal Government of Canada is revising the accessibility section of their well-regarded Internet Style Guide to reflect the WAI Page Authoring Guidelines. They are doing this to fulfill their commitment to a truly accessible electronic government," said Chuck Letourneau, consultant to the Canadian Government, and co-chair of the W3C WAI Markup Guidelines Working Group.

Cynthia Waddell, Disabilities Access Coordinator for the City of San Jose, California, and recent recipient of a WebGrrls Award for her ground-breaking work in accessible Web design, commented, "As the first governmental jurisdiction in the United States to adopt a Web accessibility policy, we really welcome these new guidelines. When we started to do this in San Jose originally, there was no central resource for Web accessibility. We are very proud to support removal of barriers to effective communication and commerce." The San Jose model has been recognized by the US Federal Government as a best practices model for Web accessibility.

The Web Accessibility Initiative and International Program Office

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative is pursuing accessibility of the Web through five primary areas of work: addressing accessibility issues in the technology of the Web; creating guidelines for browsers, authoring tools, and content creation; developing evaluation and validation tools for accessibility; conducting education and outreach; and tracking research and development. Depending on an individual's disability (or the circumstances in which one is browsing the Web, for instance on a device with no graphics display capability, or in a noisy environment), graphics, audio content, navigation options, or other aspects of Web design can present barriers.

The Web Accessibility Initiative International Program Office is sponsored by the US National Science Foundation and the 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. Disability and research organizations on several continents also actively participate in the WAI.

In addition to issuing the Page Authoring Guidelines, the W3C WAI User Interface Guidelines Working Group and Authoring Tools Guidelines Working Group are developing guidelines for browsers and for authoring tools. Detailed information on accessibility improvements in HTML 4.0 is available in the WAI Resource: HTML 4.0 Accessibility Improvments document at http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/HTML4-access

The WAI Accessibility Guidelines: Page Authoring Working Draft has been produced as part of the WAI Technical Activity, and is available at http://www.w3.org/TR/1998/WD-WAI-PAGEAUTH-0203 . 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 235 organizations are Members of the Consortium.

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

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