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NEWSLETTER: Vol. 5, No. 7, April 17, 2000

Access for Everyone, Everywhere:
The Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium

by Lisa Jansen
Learning Support Services
College of Letters & Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
-- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Each year on the UW-Madison campus, 1,500 students and prospective applicants receive services from the McBurney Disability Resource Center. It is believed that the actual number of students with disabilities is much higher. In order to access Web-based information, some of these students must use assistive devices in place of traditional computer keyboards and mice. Some rely on screen readers (programs like JAWS or Dragon Naturally Speaking) to convert text to speech. Others require text translations of audio materials.

When we make accommodations for students with disabilities, the rest of the student body often benefits. Throughout Madison and other Wisconsin cities, sidewalk curb cut-outs benefit not only wheelchair users, but also cyclists, rollerbladers and stroller pushers. On the Internet, accessible Web pages provide meaningful content not only for people with disabilities, but also those using a wide variety of hardware and software from a wide variety of locations. For example, when we provide text transcripts for audio materials, the materials become more accessible to students with hearing impairments, students who speak English as a second language, and students using computers or devices without sound cards or speakers.

As the number of Internet-capable devices such as digital phones and personal digital assistants increases, so will demand for access to web content regardless of location or display device. The Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium provides an excellent starting point for anyone who wants or needs to learn more about creating universally accessible web pages.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a large international organization with members from industry, government, and education. W3C members work together to develop standards for web developers and users. Through its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), the W3C seeks to make web content accessible to people regardless of their disabilities.

The WAI web site at is aimed at a broad audience including people who develop Web content, HTML authoring tools, and "user agents" which include software for accessing Web documents. Several knowledge levels are supported, from beginner through expert.

The WAI web site is itself a model of accessible content. It is well organized and easy to navigate within and between documents at the site. Major sections include Resources on Web Accessibility; Events, News and History; Involvement and Information; About the WAI Team; and Sponsors. If you are new to the concept of accessible Web pages, head to the section called Resources on Web Accessibility, then Easy Introductions. There you’ll find a brief slide show called Overview of the Web Accessibility Initiative. After viewing the slide show, you may wish to view Checkpoints for Web Content.

At the heart of the WAI are the guidelines and techniques which can be found at http://www.w3c.org/wai in a section called Resources on Web Accessibility. Each guideline is assigned a priority from one to three, depending on whether a Web content developer must, should, or may satisfy a particular checkpoint. Topics covered by the guidelines include best use of color and tables, equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content, and clear navigation mechanisms. Each topic includes checkpoints and techniques to assist you in creating accessible content.

By now you may be wondering how accessible your existing Web pages are. To find out, head to the WAI web site and the section called Resources on Web Accessibility, then Reference Links. There you’ll find a link to Evaluation and Repair Tools. Follow that link, then scroll down the page until you see a link to Bobby. (Or, alternatively, go directly to Bobby here.) At the Bobby site you can enter the URL of any web page and receive almost instant feedback about its overall accessibility. With feedback from Bobby and guidelines from WAI, you can begin to create access for everyone, everywhere.

Copyright note: W3C is a registered trademark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique, and Keio University on behalf of the World Wide Web Consortium.


A Sampling of Other Resources

Many UW System campuses maintain Web sites with additional tips and guidelines for creating accessible Web pages. Here are just three examples:

UW-Eau Claire Web Development Office
"Web Accessibility - Frequently Asked Questions"

UW-Madison Learning Technology and Distance Education
"Technology Accessibility"

UW-Milwaukee College of Letters and Science Edison Initiative
"Web Accessibility"

 

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