Let start with Internet banking. Banks need to support a broad range of customers, including seniors, blind, low vision, and mobility impaired users. All of these customers have difficulty using a mouse. Web authors can now create the keyboard functionality, look and feel, and accessibility of the GUI. Users, accustomed to the keyboard navigation of a GUI will appreciate this for two reasons.
- GUIs hide information until you need it (menus, scrollable spreadsheets, expandable, collapsible trees
- User can tab to significant areas of their document, including GUI like widgets and then use the arrow keys to navigate within the widget (spreadsheet, menu) rather than being forced to tab to every active and visible element, that could be hidden by these widgets, or worse being forced to access alternative content reducing the user productivity.
Another business opportunity is education. Imagine a college, who has to get their students registered for classes, manage their scholarships and loans, view the school calendar, or possibly manage their own dynamic calendar. My own daughter will be attending college for the first time this year and I am keenly aware of the opportunities for this technology. Students want to use Windows, the Mac, and Linux to access the same information. Site administrators have to address all of these issues and having to support a fat operating system GUI for all these operating systems that is accessible just is not in the cards. Like a GUI, RIAs can hide much of the information until it is needed without having to navigate through pages of static content. For users who are blind this is a huge productivity gain. Also, these UI can be spoken with rich information, as in a GUI. For example, a blind user can hear their screen reader announce they are on a menu and it as a popup. A user who is blind may also hear verbose contextual information such as: you are on a notebook tab x 1 of 2.This is clearly a paradigm shift.
As the article states, this is part of an ongoing effort in the W3C which IBM is leading to make RIAs accessible. Like all W3C recommendations this will need to have industry implementation. Firefox is the driving factor in making this a reality. Furthermore, IBM is working with AT vendors to support the technology. Currently, GW Micro and Freedom Scientific have versions of their screen readers in private beta using Firefox and users are raving about it. With these efforts around Firefox in place, developers can now start to develop accessible RIAs today rather than wait.
Going forward, Firefox is uniquely positioned to deliver the business opportunities of RIAs. It runs on multiple operating systems. Authors can enable their web content once and render it Firefox on multiple operating systems. Going forward, Firefox is being geared to support the accessibility infrastructures on both Linux and Windows.
The accessibility standards targeted at supporting RIAs may be rendered on Internet Explorer as well as Firefox and in fact make use of the keyboard support and the ability to drive magnification like Firefox. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer currently does not support this new emerging standard with screen readers. Businesses and federal agencies evaluating their browser strategy should take another look at Firefox 1.5 when it's released with the benefits of RIAs in mind.
See the HTML Accessibility Preview for more information on the Firefox accessibility effort on RIAs.