1999 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 1999 Conference Table of Contents


Judy Brewer
Director, Web Accessibility Initiative International Program Office
World Wide Web Consortium
MIT/LCS Room NE43-355
545 Technology Square
Cambridge, MA 02139 USA

Daniel Dardailler
Project Manager, Web Accessibility Initiative
World Wide Web Consortium
2004, route des Lucioles - B.P. 93
06902 Sophia Antipolis Cedex


The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), hosted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), has the goal of making the Web accessible for people with disabilities. This presentation provides an overview of WAI progress and resources, and explores technical issues and implementation challenges remaining. To what extent will browser and authoring tool manufacturers implement accessibility guidelines? How widely known and used are the WAI Page Author Guidelines, which enable accessible Web site development with today's tools? What impact will upcoming changes in Web technologies -- increased use of multimedia, the spread of XML, increasing internationalization, use of the Web on mobile devices or over the TV, have on accessibility of the Web, and what actions can we take?


W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is pursuing accessibility of the Web through five complementary activities:

WAI has attracted a large number of individuals and organizations from industry, disability organizations, research centers and government who are participating in WAI working groups and interest groups. In some cases they are working side-by-side with industry representatives in many of W3C's technical working groups, in other cases helping with press outreach or developing training programs to increase awareness of accessibility solutions.

WAI is supported in part by funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, European Commission’s TIDE Programme, Microsoft Corporation, IBM/Lotus, and NCR.

WAI publishes all its resources and materials on the Web; our home page is http://www.w3.org/WAI.

Guidelines for Accessibility

Guidelines development is one of the most critical parts of WAI work. Accessibility guidelines interpret between what is possible given the technologies of the Web and what is necessary given the functional requirements of the user. WAI has developed three sets of guidelines so far: one directed at people writing pages with current authoring tools; a second set directed at browser manufacturers to make sure their products are accessible; and a third set which provides guidance to manufacturers of the authoring tools which people use when writing pages.

The WAI Page Author Guidelines provide guidance on accessible Web site design and deal with a variety of issues, from alternative representations of images to ensuring that users can navigate through frames successfully. The Page Author Working Group has had to balance a number of considerations, including uneven levels of implementation of improved technologies among installed browsers and the need to not constrain creativity in Web site design. The WAI User Agent Guidelines address accessibility of browsers, multimedia players, and third party assistive technologies. One of the challenges here has been to identify which type of product -- the mainstream browser or the assistive technology -- bears which degree of responsibility for an accessibility solution, and for compatibility between the two.

The WAI Authoring Tool Guidelines are the area with perhaps the greatest promise for future Web accessibility. To the extent that authoring tool manufacturers can automate the creation of accessible pages, there is less burden on individual page authors, and a less monumental education and outreach task. The latest versions of these documents are available from the WAI home page http://www.w3.org/WAI and also from the technical reports page of the W3C http://www.w3.org/TR.

Technical Issues

Having W3C, the organization that develops Web standards, as the host location for WAI has been a boon in terms of coordination of technology development. During WAI's initial phase, there was a strong focus on incorporating accessibility features into HTML 4.0 and CSS2 (Cascading Style Sheets: Level 2).

Technical improvements supporting accessibility in HTML 4.0 http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/HTML4-access include features to support better document structure, linking of style sheets, alternative representation of content, and easier navigation and orientation.

In CSS2, features supporting accessibility http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/CSS2-access include additional supports for navigation and orientation, aural cascading style sheets, enabling user override of style sheets. In addition there are the accessibility benefits provided by features relating to layout and positioning and font appearance making unnecessary many of the past abuses of structural markup to achieve presentational effects.

Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, or SMIL, was released by the W3C in June, 1998 and represents a significant step forward in accessibility of multimedia on the Web by allowing synchronization of captions with audio media objects. MathML provides a means for accessibility of mathematics on the Web.

The W3C is now witnessing an explosion in start-up of new activities and submission of new languages and data formats for consideration. Depending on how it is developed, XML will either represent a boon or a disaster for Web accessibility. Part of that will depend on a close working relationship between WAI and the XML working groups. Scaleable Vector Graphics, Internationalization, Mobile Access, Voice Browsing, TV& the Web, and many other W3C activities, all have dependencies with WAI requirements.

Educational Resources

There is also the question of how to bring the technical and the guidelines work to the right audiences. For Web accessibility, the audience is enormous -- there are literally millions of people publishing material on the Web. The WAI has chosen an approach of extensive educational resources development combined with a strong international outreach presence.

Resources currently under development include curriculum slide sets, including self-instruction modules; business cases; reference cards; demonstration materials; and many more. A large number of organizations are involved in producing these materials, including some of the largest international associations of writers and Web site developers and administrators.

Implementation Issues

It is one thing to change the technologies of the Web; it is another to leverage implementation commitments from the many manufacturers of Web-based applications. The technology improvements in HTML 4.0 and CSS2 are only useful if they are built into browsers and authoring tools. The WAI therefor works with W3C member organizations and others to ensure that manufacturers are aware of the accessibility features and understand the importance of implementation. Where awareness is insufficient, there is a growing body of policies in many countries which support an accessible information infrastructure.

Opportunities for Involvement and Action

Web accessibility depends on the involvement of everyone. Starting from the most basic level, here are some ways one can contribute to Web accessibility:

These ideas are just a beginning. For more information, visit the WAI home page or contact either of the authors of this paper. For discussion of the latest educational resources, guidelines developments, technology issues, and promotional strategies related to Web accessibility, join this session at the CSUN '99 Conference.

Judy Brewer
Director, Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) International Program Office
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
MIT/LCS Room NE3-355
545 Technology Square
Cambridge, MA, 02139, USA

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 1999 Conference Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.