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W3C Upgrades Web Accessibility Standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which works on developing standards for the Web, has updated its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

WCAG 2.0, announced today, will help developers make Web sites and pages more perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, the organization said.

The W3C is aiming to make this an international standard to make it easier for developers to create disabled-friendly Web sites and pages.

"There were a lot of different guidelines for accessibility developed by different countries and organizations, so in WCAG 2.0 we had this huge effort to develop something that would work well across all these different needs and become like a unified international standard," Judy Brewer, director of the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), told InternetNews.com. "There's been considerable international interest in accepting this as a standard."

WCAG 2.0 has received support from industry and governments at various levels, including internationally. These include companies like Adobe, (NASDAQ: ADBE) IBM, (NYSE: IBM) Boeing, (NYSE: BA) Microsoft, (NASDAQ: MSFT) and the Chinese and Japanese governments, as well as the European Commission for Information Society and Media.

Microsoft in 2007 helped form the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance with other vendors, including Adobe, Novell (NYSE: NOVL) and Oracle (NYSE: ORCL) to help developers make hardware and software more accessible, and pledged to grant royalty-free licenses for any of its patents needed to implement required portions of the Alliance's specifications.

IBM last year announced an initiative to give teachers wider access to learning material about assistive technologies, and has signed up six universities and got support from the U.S. Department of Education. It is building a worldwide repository of materials which will enable student developers to make software more accessible to the disabled and aged.

Getting better all the time

WCAG 2.0 has several improvements over its predecessor, which was developed in 2000.

The biggest improvement in WCAG 2.0 is that it is embraces the new Web technologies and is technology neutral. "WCAG 1.0 was specifically for HTML, but the Web uses other technologies now, and we wanted an updated standard that would cover any technologies and also give developers more flexibility," Brewer said.

In addition to offering guidelines and testable success criteria that work across all Web technologies, WCAG 2.0 offers hundreds of proven techniques to solve accessibility problems that will meet its criteria, Brewer said. Developers can also come up with their own techniques which will be shared in a community process.

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