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Web consortium issues guidelines for user accessibility

Furthering efforts to ensure that people with disabilities worldwide have access to the Web, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has issued the second of three public working drafts of web accessibility guidelines.

W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) developed the "WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent" specification to improve usability for all who access the web. The guidelines focus on different aspects of browser design, particularly the user interface.

Released June 18, the guidelines are part of a series of WAI accessibility guidelines that together address page authoring (released in February 1998), browsers (the current release), and authoring tools (in development). W3C is run by MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in France and Keio University in Japan.

"The WAI Accessibility Guidelines: User Agent specification will provide guidance to manufacturers of web browsers and multimedia players to ensure that people with disabilities can use their products," explained Judy Brewer, director of WAI's International Program Office.

The user agent guidelines offer guidance on presentation adjustability, orientation information, navigation and control, organization of accessibility features, and compatibility with a variety of technologies. In addition, the guidelines highlight key elements of HTML 4.0 and Cascading Style Sheets Level 2, where implementation in browsers is critical to ensure support for accessibility.


The user agent working draft is the result of a collaborative effort between disability organizations, industry and research organizations involved in WAI.

"These guidelines, which we are developing in cooperation with browser manufacturers, will clarify priorities for browser design with regard to usability for people with disabilities. We welcome public feedback while this is in working-draft status," said������������������Jon Gunderson, chair of the WAI User Agent Guidelines Working Group and coordinator of Assistive Communication and Information Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Blind or visually impaired people should be able to navigate the web as quickly and comfortably as our sighted colleagues do," said Scott Marshall, vice president of the American Foundation for the Blind. "The guidelines created by the User Agent working group represent a significant step forward toward the creation of more accessible web browsers and related applications."

The W3C's WAI Accessibility Guidelines are just one aspect of a multipart approach to improve the accessibility of the web, in partnership with organizations around the world.������������������The WAI is addressing web accessibility through five primary areas of work: ensuring that the core technologies of the web support accessibility; developing guidelines for page authoring, user agents and authoring tools; developing evaluation and repair tools for accessibility; conducting education and outreach; and tracking research and development that can affect the future accessibility of the web.

The WAI International Program Office is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; the European Commission's TIDE Programme, and W3C industry members including IBM/Lotus Development Corp., Microsoft Corp., NCR and Riverland Holding.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 15, 1998.

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