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Technological and Evaluation Foundations of Accessible Web

Ossi Nykänen Tampere University of Technology, Department of Mathematics, W3C Finnish Office. A presentation for Media Goes Accessible 19.1.2012, at Aalto University
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  • Abstract
    • Web technologies and accessibility guidelines are developed at the W3C. In this presentation we outline both, and consider how certain legacy problems of the ”desktop Web” could be overcome
  • Outline of the presentation
    • World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Web Technologies
    • Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
    • Beyond Legacy Assumptions
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Part I: W3C and Web Technologies

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World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

  • Founded in 1994 with the vision of “One Web,” open to all
  • Today Web is everywhere
  • Web was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the W3C Director
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W3C (Cont'd)

  • W3C is an international consortium where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards
    • Director Tim Berners-Lee, CEO Jeff Jaffe
    • Standards and guidelines for the long-term growth for the Web (cf. HTML, XML, WAI, Mobile Web)
    • Over 300 members – welcome (myösW3C Suomen toimisto)
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W3C value proposition

Key properties
  • International organization
  • Strong Web community
  • Track record of success
  • Neutral forum for collaboration across industries, ecosystems and communities
  • Broad industry and academic participation (e.g. Browser, mobile, internet and corporate)
  • Active, expert staff participating in work
Broad reach
  • Translations of standards to 55+ languages
  • Liaisons w/ 40+ global standards organizations (UN, ISO, ITU, IETF, OGF, Unicode, ICANN, ETSI, Isoc…)
  • 55,000+ people subscribed to 800+ mailing lists
  • Millions of Hits/day on
  • 220+ Web standards:(HTML, XML, PNG/SVG,RDF/OWL/SPARQL, Accessibility….)
  • 1,800+ participants in 60+ Groups
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…The W3C Open Web Platform

Open Web Platform One integrated system for all applications, content, and devices, ranging from gaming to healthcare.
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W3C One Web: Principles and vision

  • Web for All
    • Web Accessibility Initiative; Internationalization; Mobile Web for Social Development
  • Web on Everything
    • Web of Devices; Mobile Web Initiative; Browsers and Other Agents
  • Web for Rich Interaction
    • Web Design and Applications; Web Architecture
  • Web of Data and Services
    • Essential XML Technologies; Semantic Web; Web of Services
  • Web of Trust
    • Semantic Web; XML Security, Web of Services Security; Privacy
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W3C Web technology stack

Stack illustration The W3C has so far published about 200 standards which follow layered design architecture. It is very important that accessibility is developed hand in hand so that critical accessibility features are included in the technologies.
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Current work (lots of)

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What about Web and accessibility?

  • Accessibility requires several things, e.g.
    • Understanding, willingness, and know-how for supporting true user needs
    • Supportive tools and feedback
    • Enabling technology incl. open interfaces
  • Thus, (Web) accessibility needs to be build into the technologies (and specified in that context)
    • Also needed: Active community, best practices, technical guidelines, continuous evaluation, ...
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Part II: Web Accessibility Initiative

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Web Accessibility Initiative

  • The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities (or context-specific challenges)
  • Launched in 1997, directed by Judy Brewer
    • Accessibility built-in for Web technologies
    • Guidelines and training materials
    • Outreach, projects, ...
    • Basis for many regulations
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Web Content Accessibility

  • Accessibility is a property of a ”Web page” (incl. apps) that enables successfully using it
  • Improve accessibility via four key principles:
    • Perceivable
    • Operable
    • Understandable
    • Robust
  • ...while paying attention to accessibility issues, perhaps when using assistive technologies
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Interaction of roles and tools is needed

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Pivotal guidelines and techniques

  • Standards and documented techniques
    • Web Content (WCAG) (also WCAG 2.0 in Finnish)
    • Authoring Tool (ATAG); v2.0 in progress
    • User Agent (UAAG); v2.0 in progress
    • Evaluation Language (EARL); work in progress
    • Rich Applications (WAI-ARIA); work in progress
  • Also resources for
    • Planning, implementing, managing, evaluating, getting involved with WAI, etc.
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Evaluating and reporting accessibility

  • Two basic ways of testing:
    • Preliminary review
    • Conformance evaluation
  • Reporting is important
    • ”Who, what, criterion, results”
    • In the future, reporting can be done in machine-readable exchange format, using the Evaluation and Report Language (EARL) 1.0...
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Tips for hands-on work

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  • Accessibility is a commonplace design requirement that is also present during the application evolution phase (cf. security)
  • Technologies should be used in ways that are ”accessibility supported” (cf. device independence)
  • Content should be ”programmatically determined” (cf. Machine-understandable)
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Notes (cont'd)

  • Application functionality should be available via a keyboard interface
  • Accessibility features of applications should be documented
  • There should be an easy way for users to provide (contextual) feedback
  • Hm. Why do we fall into these pitholes?
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Part III: Beyond Legacy Assumptions

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Thinking outside the box

  • Obviously, the W3C WAI and practitioners need to deal with the current issues, where many applications emphasise visual design
  • But things are in motion, consider...
    • What does using an application ”mean”?
    • Enriching current applications (WAI-ARIA)
    • Enriching evaluation feedback (EARL)
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What does using an application ”mean”? (Read: We currently spend lot of efforts to describe the graphical user interface...)

  • According to a desktop metaphor (”a legacy example”):
    • Read instructions, navigate to appropriate view, fill in a visual form fields, click button to submit, read scripted response (loop)
    • Not a disaster if Perceivable, Oper..., Und..., and Ro..., but really:
  • From a functional user experience point of view:
    • Search information, iterate down to matching functionality, provide task parameters and execute, query results (loop)
  • Logically, applications provide information and functions – ”buttons” etc. are part of the user interface implementation
    • Tough challenges ahead: Getting overview; naming and matching tasks and functionality; certain kinds of input; remembering state and history; accessing specific sensory experiences
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Enriching current applications (WAI-ARIA)

  • The basic approach for programmatically determining things is to write ”semantics” out (with commonly known model & names)
  • A (bad) example of assuming common-sense reasoning:
    • User interface: Piece of HTML code (e.g. ”<div>”) is a button if it happens to behave like one (and looks like it)
  • From machine-understandable semantic point of view:
    • Instead of ”<div>”, say ”<div role=''>” (i.e. using the standard ARIA taxonomy)
    • Even better, anticipate to say ”<button>” in HTML5...
  • Result: The Controls of the user interface can be identified
  • Perhaps something similar could be applied to functions?
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Enriching evaluation feedback (EARL)

  • Integrating and processing narrative eval feedback is tedious – luckily, this can be modelled similarly as well
  • A example of assuming common-sense reasoning:
    • Report: A report says that the page ”” fails to provide alt attributes for images (and hence is not WCAG 2.0-A)
  • Considering machine-understandable semantics, say also:
...<earl:Assertion rdf:about="#assertion"><earl:subject rdf:resource=""/> <earl:test rdf:resource=""/> <earl:result rdf:resource="#result"/></earl:Assertion><earl:TestResult rdf:about="#result"> <earl:outcome rdf:resource=""/> </earl:TestResult>...
  • Result: tests can be integrated and automatically processed
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Fundamental challenges (?)

  • Old legacy content and apps
  • New applications – and dev tools – are (still) often developed visual design in mind
  • Locking applications ”just in case” for business reasons etc. (vs. Open interfaces & linked data)
  • New apps, technologies, and devices sometimes re-invent the old (solved?) mistakes
  • Everything isn't rocket science, but training is needed; accessibility is also a moving target
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Part IV: The Final Words

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  • W3C develops Web for all
  • Mindful development, testing, and evaluation are the cornerstones of accessible Web design
  • The future of accessibility lies in machine-understandability of information and tasks (?)
  • With proper mindset and tools, many accessibility challenges can be solved
  • Thank you!