Joint BSI/JISC CETIS Accessibility Workshop

February’s Accessibility SIG (Special Interest Group) meeting was jointly run with BSI (British Standards Institution) as an informal workshop, focussing on the accessibility standards’ work being done around the world across various domains. It took advantage of the presence of a number of international standards developers and strategists, who were in the UK (United Kingdom) at the time, to foster exchange of work and ideas between the standards and education communities.

Presentations ranged from an overview of the accessibility standards work being done across the globe by Alex Li (Microsoft) to the development of accessible widgets by Elaine Pearson and her team at Teesside University.

Several of the presenters talked about their ongoing work in accessibility specifications and have asked for feedback from the community. So if you would like be involved in helping to shape these developments, people working on the following specifications would really appreciate your feedback:

* Standardisation Mandate M/376 (Phase 2) – Dave Sawdon from TRE Limited described how this work will create European accessibility requirements for the public procurement of products and services in the ICT domain (similar to the American VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), which was introduced by Ken Salaets of the Information Technology Industry Council). The development team are particularly looking for public procurement officials to help define this standard.
* Access For All v.3.0 – works on the premise that personalisation preferences need to be machine readable, so it uses metadata to describe these personal needs and preferences. Andy Heath and the specification development team at IMS would like people to download it, try it out, implement it, check it works, and provide feedback.
* BS 8878:2010 Web accessibility. Code of practice – Jonathan Hassell, BBC, talked us through the background and purpose the recent web accessibility Code of Practice and Brian Kelly, UKOLN presented BS 8878 in the context of an holistic approach to accessibility. However, whilst it is now available for public use, user testing of the Code of Practice can only really be done in the field, so please join the community of practice and provide feedback on your experiences of implementing BS 8878.
* Mobile Applications Accessibility Standard – This standard, proposed by Yacoob Woozer of the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), is still very much at the drawing board stage, with the focus on mobile applications rather than on creating websites that can viewed on different devices. However, suggesstions on what to include in the standard would be welcome.

Several of the presentations focussed on the work of specific standards bodies – David Fatscher from BSI gave us an overview of BSI; the various ISO standards which feature accessibility elements were introduced by Jim Carter from the University of Saskatchewan; and Shadi Abou-Zahra of W3C talked about the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) guidelines.

And finally, I am very much appreciative of the work that the BSI staff and Andy Heath put into making this event such a success. It was it was a great opportunity for the standards and education sectors to get together and I hope that some lasting collaborations have been forged.

WAI-ARIA: What does it do?

I’ve just been listening a podcast by Freedom Scientific (developer of the JAWS screenreader software), which focused on the WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications) suite.

The hour long podcast was conducted in the form of an interview by Jonathan Mosen with Freedom Scientific’s Chief Technical Officer, Glen Gordon, who gave an overview of what it does. Following the interview, Mosen gave an example of it in use.

Gordon started off by talking about Web 2.0 and how web pages are becoming more and more like applications and suggested that, in a way, we were returning to days of the dumb terminal. The distribution model has also changed. Nowadays, many applications are free to use, with funding either from advertising or as “pay-as-you-go” or “pay-in-chunks”. Web 2.0 has various benefits including centralisation of documents, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world via multiple device types, and ease of collaboration.

However, there can be accessibility issues. Prior to the development of the ARIA suite, there was no standard way of displaying web pages. Although HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) is a standard way of presenting content, it doesn’t actually cover concepts relating to the layout of applications or the web page itself (e.g. trees, the difference between a navigation menu and a list of resources in the content, etc). Therefore, it is difficult for other applications (such as screenreaders) to understand the layout of the page itself.

Most web pages are divided up into separate areas (e.g. navigation, content, banner, etc), but it is not always easy to tell where one area ends and another begins. ARIA, however, allows each area to be labeled as a “landmark” of a particular type (such as navigation, main content area, search, etc) so that other applications know how to interact with different parts of a web page. In a way, it allows web page developers to annotate pages in a standard way, which can then be interpreted by other applications.

ARIA consists of “roles” (“document” or “application”) for each page, with each role containing “attributes” (e.g. “menu item”), which are applied as an HTML tag. Changes in “state” can also be identified, e.g. whether a tree view is open or closed, and “alerts”, such as a change to an advert or a new contribution to an online chat, can be described as important or not important.

Mosen then demonstrated an example of an alpha version of an online player for Radio New Zealand, which includes an ARIA-enabled slide control for the volume (only usable in an ARIA-enabled browser or with other ARIA-enabled software, such as JAWS 10.0) and also allows the user to move forward in the programme.

At present, only the latest version of Firefox 3 supports some of ARIA’s features, although other browsers such as IE8 (Internet Explorer), Opera, and Safari are following suit.

WAI-ARIA Roadmap Announced

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) have just announced the latest addition to their accessibility stable Рthe ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) Roadmap, which will make dynamic web content accessible.

The Roadmap is essentially a suite of documents made up of:

* the WAI-ARIA Roadmap itself -¬†addresses the accessibility of dynamic Web content by describing “the technologies to map controls, AJAX live regions, and events to accessibility APIs, including custom controls used for Rich Internet Applications”. It also “outlines new navigation techniques to mark common Web structures such as menus, primary content, secondary content, banner information and other types of Web structures”, which can improve accessibility.

* Roles for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA Roles) – provides a means of identifying roles in dynamic web content, in order to improve interoperability with assistive technologies.

* States and Properties Module for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA States) – enables the behaviour of an element to be included in XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language), which can then be used in conjunction with assistive technologies or to dynamically render content via different style sheets.

Further information is available from the press release.