Collaboration Tool Accessibility

From Research Questions Task Force

Document Superseded

This page has been superseded by the Collaboration Tools Accessibility User Requirements document Please see Collaboration Tools Accessibility User Requirements (public working draft).


  • Interactive, collaborative tools for editing documents, source code or other content.
  • The tool may have real-time collaboration features that merge each contributor's changes, which are then reflected in the content of the editing buffer as perceived by all of the contributors. Algorithms such as operational transformation are typically used to reconcile updates from multiple contributors in real time.
  • Annotation tools (e.g., using Web Annotation) are also in scope, as they are very similar to comment insertion features in editors or word processors from the point of view of the user interface.

Content suggestions

  • Defining collaborative editing tools?
  • Developer guidance: applicability of W3C WAI standards (ATAG 2.0, UAAG, WCAG, etc) and specific guidance to collaborate tools
  • Content authoring: applicability of W3C WAI standards (ATAG 2.0, UAAG, * optimised for Microsoft collaborative tools and works better than JAWS for example, good to have guidance
  • AT-specific tools that may need to be activated (e.g. additional screen reader shortcuts in Google Docs, etc)

Typical Features of Collaborative Editing

  • Real-time notification of the presence of other users who are editing the same content.
  • Real-time updates to the content as changes are made by multiple authors.
  • Updates may be distributed to all collaborators in real time.
  • Indications of changes made to a document, or the differences between revisions (e.g., suggested changes introduced by an author, diff patches). The differences need not be displayed in real time.
  • Support for writing comments or log messages to facilitate cooperation among authors.
  • In some systems, comments take the form of annotations applied to parts of the content.
  • Revision control (e.g., reverting to prior versions, possibly including more sophisticated features) is probably essential.

Features Not Specific to Collaborative Editing

  • A "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) interface: a collaborative editing system may be WYSIWYG or based on direct editing of a markup language. The choice of approach is separate from the issue of the collaboration features provided by the tool.
  • Real-time or asynchronous: systems that support real-time editing can generally be used asynchronously. Some systems (e.g., a typical wiki application) do not support real-time collaboration features.

Some Issues of Accessibility

  • For screen reader users, working with the features of collaborative editors listed above tends to introduce cognitive complexity.
  • We should focus on problems that are not addressed by WCAG 2.1, success criterion 4.1.3 (Status Messages).
  • The cognitive complexity of collaborative editing in general should be considered, especially in real time, and particularly under circumstances in which an author's attention is divided between editing and other tasks, * such as participating in a conversation or meeting.
  • Making differences between revisions intelligible can be challenging - especially in non-visual media.

Proposed Accessibility Requirements


  • The presence of annotations should be disclosed to assistive technologies.
  • The content of each annotation should be available to assistive technologies.
  • The range of text which is annotated should be disclosed to assistive technologies (e.g., the start and end of an annotated text).
  • Screen readers should support a mode in which users are alerted to the presence of annotations, and can discover the text which is annotated.
  • Users should be able to select text for annotation using their input device of choice, then associate a comment/note/annotation with it.
  • Users should be able to read the document without annotations (i.e., with annotations and their presence hidden, both in the visual rendering and via read aloud tools or screen readers).

Presenting Revisions

Many collaborative editing systems provide features in which the differences between revisions of a document are shown. This capability may be integrated into the presentation of the document itself (e.g., in the editing window), or it may be separate (as in diff patches). Some user needs are as follows.

  • To be able to distinguish unchanged text, inserted text and deleted text. This includes ensuring that the insertion and deletion annotations are available to assistive technologies.
  • To be able to suppress display of insertion and deletion annotations while editing the content, thus presenting only a single revision of the document at a time.
  • To be able to switch conveniently between revisions (e.g., to read the text as it was before or after certain revisions were made).
  • If revisions are shown separately from the main text, to be able to navigate quickly between reading revisions and reading a view of the entire content.

Responding to Changes Made by Collaborators in Real Time

Some systems provide a real-time display of changes made by all collaborators, merging all editing operations as required. Some pertinent user needs are as follows.

  • To be able to read the text changed by a collaborator as soon as the changes have been made and reconciled. This includes ensuring that changes are disclosed in a timely manner to assistive technologies.
  • To be able to move to the location at which a collaborator is editing in order to read their changes.
  • To be alerted if a collaborator begins editing the same paragraph/text block that the user is editing (and hence conflicting changes are likely).
  • To be able to suppress notification of collaboration activities (e.g., alerts indicating that a collaborator has started/stopped editing).
  • To be informed of collaborators' starting/ending editing sessions involving the same document/content that the user is editing.


  • Das, M., Gergle, D., & Piper, A. M. (2019). "It doesn't win you friends" Understanding Accessibility in Collaborative Writing for People with Vision Impairments. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 3(CSCW), 1-26.
  • Das, M., Piper, A. M., & Gergle, D. (2022). Design and Evaluation of Accessible Collaborative Writing Techniques for People with Vision Impairments. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 29(2), 1-42.
  • Das, M. (2018, October). Understanding collaborative writing practices of people with visual impairments. In Proceedings of the 2018 ACM International Joint Conference and 2018 International Symposium on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and Wearable Computers (pp. 1744-1749).

Note: some of these papers are available from the Web site of one of the authors.


We include below a list of examples of tools that lie within the scope of the proposed work.

[To be completed]