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W3C Advances Accessibility Standard

The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) -- intended to make the Web accessible to the disabled -- took a large step forward on Sept. 13, when the standards body advanced its User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) 1.0 document to the "Candidate Recommendation" phase.

UAAG 1.0 describes how to design Web browsers, multimedia players and other Web software that is more accessible to people with visual, hearing, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities -- for example, providing keyboard support for those who cannot use a mouse due to blindness or other physical disabilities.

The document is divided into nearly 90 checkpoints, sorted into three priorities:

  • Priority 1 -- Checkpoints that must be satisfied by user agents, otherwise one or more groups of users with disabilities will find it impossible to access the Web. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for enabling some people to access the Web;
  • Priority 2 -- Checkpoints that should be satisfied by user agents, otherwise one or more groups of users with disabilities will find it difficult to access the Web. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to Web access for some people;
  • Priority 3 -- Checkpoints that may be satisfied by user agents to make it easier for one or more groups of users with disabilities to access information. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve access to the Web for some people.

Examples of Priority 1 checkpoints include full keyboard access -- making sure that the user can operate through keyboard input alone -- and ensuring that every message (prompt, alert, notification, etc.) that has a non-text message also have a text equivalent. Priority 2 checkpoints include allowing the user to configure their browsers or multimedia players not to render images or to slow the presentation rate of audio and animations. Priority 3 checkpoints include allowing the user to configure the position of controls on tool bars of the user agent user interface, to add or remove controls for the user interface from a predefined set, and to restore the default user interface.

The Candidate Recommendation phase is the one of the last steps on a standard's road to full "Recommendation" status. The W3C said advancement of a technical report to Candidate Recommendation is an explicit call for implementation experience to those outside of the related Working Groups working on the standard or the W3C itself.

Candidate Recommendation is a critical phase in the life of the UAAG 1.0," said Jon Gunderson, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Chair of the UAAG Working Group. "Our Working Group invites developers to comprehensively address software accessibility by implementing these guidelines. We look forward to helping developers understand and implement these guidelines."

UAAG 1.0 is one of three guidelines within the WAI. The others are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0, which explains to authors how to create accessible Web content, and the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 1.0, which explains to software developers how to design authoring tools that are accessible to authors with disabilities.