The Web can be a truly democratic medium that enables people with disabilities in life-changing ways. Blind and visually impaired users can shop online. Those with cognitive difficulties can learn on-line at their own speed. Users with hearing impairments have access to rich media content. People can meet online, participate and socialise without prejudice and, potentially, with no barriers in their way.
In many places this is already true. But not everywhere. We believe that everyone has a right to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the Web.
Creating web pages which apply standards-based markup and design practices is an essential step towards ensuring that content can be accessed across the widest range of user agents, devices and operating environments.
Web standards offer many specific markup elements and attributes that can aid accessibility, as they more clearly define relationships, provide alternative content and give richer meaning to what would normally just be unstructured content.
Since its inception in 1998, the Web Standards Project (WaSP) has been campaigning for the general adoption of web standards. While great progress has been made in getting browser manufacturers, web designers and even some authoring tool developers to understand and leverage the advantages of standards, there still remain crucial parts of the ‘web equation’ to be tackled.
Assistive technologies (such as screen readers) that some people with disabilities use still do not consistently take full advantage of the possibilities offered by standards-compliant markup.
Sophisticated and expensive content management tools produce poor-quality, non-semantic, inaccessible markup.
A lot of authoring software (including CMS and blogging tools) cannot be easily used by people with disabilities, because they don’t conform to Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) – the W3C recommendation for web authoring tools.
Corporations and their web developers mistakenly believe that accessible web development is incompatible with branding and beauty.
Those that do care are often sold expensive and erroneous solutions by that new phenomenon: the Accessibility Snake Oil Salesman – companies claiming a thorough understanding of web accessibility issues and promising “miracle cure” systems that automatically take care of them, but only delivering solutions which are anything but accessible.
The rapid adoption of DOM scripting and AJAX introduces further problems with regards to support by Assistive Technologies.
The Accessibility Task Force believes that now is the time to address these problems. We want to highlight the daily issues faced by designers and developers which perpetuate inaccessible processes and output, and work toward the swift eradication of these problems. And we want to change the focus of accessibility from simply quieting an automated tool to addressing the real barriers encountered by real users of all abilities.
- That all Assistive Technologies used to assist web browsing understand the whole of the HTML , XHTML, DOM and CSS recommendations.
- That the manufacturers of assistive technologies transparently document their products’ capabilities and behaviour in terms of standards support and scripting.
- That all Content Management Systems produce semantic, accessible, valid and lean code straight out of the box.
- That CMS vendors make certain that people with disabilities can easily use their tools to produce Web content.
- That web developers use web standards to produce their websites and, where possible, they test them with assistive technologies and with people with disabilities to ensure that they are both accessible and usable.
- That the community remember that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are only part of the puzzle—the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG), User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) and in fact the Document Object Model (DOM) are web standards too.
- We will work ceaselessly to demonstrate that accessibility and well-formed markup can go hand-in-hand with effective interactivity, branding and aesthetics.
- We will demand more from our tools. All of them. We will push for browsers, media players and assistive technology to support UAAG , and for WYSIWYG code editors, CMSes, blogging tools, converters and media tools to support ATAG .
- We will impartially attempt to engage all vendors in constructive dialogue to help them support web standards and thereby enhance accessibility.
- We will strive to educate corporations and their web developers, so that they can make informed decisions without falling prey to Accessibility Snake Oil Salesman .
- We will work closely with other WaSP Task Forces and relevant Working Groups such as the WCAG WG to develop reliable patterns and methodologies for developing standards-compliant, interactive and accessible web sites that work consistently for users with disabilities.
- Finally, when a vendor is unwilling to engage and willfully continues to pursue discriminatory practices, we will use the resources we have available to force the issue.
The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards which ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all.