2004 Conference Proceedings

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WAVE TOOLBAR: A BROWSER-BASED WEB ACCESSIBILITY TOOL FOR DESIGNERS

Presenters
Paul Ryan Bohman
Project Coordinator, Postsecondary Education
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Utah State University
6800 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322
Email: paulb@cc.usu.edu

Shane B Anderson
Programmer Analyst
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Utah State University
6800 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322
Email: shane@cpd2.usu.edu

The process of creating accessible Web content requires the ability to evaluate that content for accessibility errors. The WAVE toolbar has several important strengths that set it apart from other accessibility evaluation tools. Throughout this demonstration, the presenters will point out the strengths of the WAVE and provide tips on how to best make use of the features in the software, and how to interpret the feedback that it gives.

The greatest strength of the WAVE is that it encourages developers to take a close look at their Web content and personally evaluate its suitability for users with disabilities. Rather than just provide developers with a list of problems, WAVE provides feedback in the context of the page itself, allowing developers to make informed judgments about possible accessibility problems in the content. The WAVE does not issue a "pass" or "fail" statement, but instead empowers developers to make that determination on their own.

On a less philosophical level, another strength of the WAVE toolbar is that it works within the browser itself, allowing developers to evaluate any page on the fly. Web developers are constantly viewing their Web content in browsers during the development process, so the presence of an accessibility evaluation tool within the browser itself is a logical extension of that process.

WAVE Toolbar Modes

The WAVE allows Web developers to view their content in several different modes. These modes present the developer with different scenarios that simulate the experience of users with different types of disabilities and which provide feedback on how to correct specific accessibility problems. See figure 1.

Screen shot of the WAVE toolbar in Internet Explorer

Figure 1: Screen shot of the WAVE toolbar in Internet Explorer, showing a drop-down list of different modes, as explained below

  1. The main WAVE mode provides feedback concerning issues for all types of disabilities. The WAVE inserts icons and text-based feedback in the context of the content itself, flagging accessibility errors, alerts, features, and semantic elements. Developers can than determine whether their intentions are reflected in the WAVE's feedback.

  2. The high contrast mode displays the page with extra-large fonts and high contrast colors, to simulate the personalized settings of users with extreme low vision. Developers determine whether their content is still usable under these circumstances.

  3. The "linearized view" mode simulates the reading order that screen readers follow. This is essential in order to find out whether the reading order is logical when read by screen readers.

  4. In the Outline View, WAVE shows only the headings on the page. Under most circumstances, Web content should be organized with logical headings. When the rest of the content is stripped from view, the headings should form a structural outline of the Web content. This type of organization is helpful to all users, but can be especially helpful to users with cognitive disabilities and to those who use screen readers, since screen readers allow users to navigate through the heading structure of Web content. This mode allows developers to decide if the structural outline accurately represents their intended structure in the content.

  5. Finally, the custom mode allows developers to view the page through their own custom style sheet. This allows for great flexibility in the evaluation process, allowing developers to simulate user settings for a wide range of disability types.

Conclusion

This demonstration will focus on the best ways to use the WAVE toolbar in the evaluation of Web content for accessibility. The presenters will focus on how to interpret the feedback that WAVE produces, and how to use WAVE to understand and design for the needs of users with various types of disabilities. The end result is a Web that meets its potential as a powerful mode of communication for people with disabilities.


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