A part of the problem is that semantics are limited to the tag elements names. For example, a table when read to a screen reader must always be a table. In some instances it may be used for layout.
To address Dynamic HTML accessibility, we have a roadmap in place in the W3C to fix the problem. The intent is to allow the author a way to provide accessibility information into a web page to support the Accessibility API on the platform. I will be presenting information on this effort at the annual CSUN "Technology and Persons with Disabilities" March 14-19, 2005 for those who are interested.
Her is a link to the discussion overview: http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2005/proceedings/2524.htm[Read More]
Accessibility Strategy and Architecture
I have been asked a number of times about XForms and accessibility. During the course of the blog I will highlight the accessibility features of XForms.
- next and previous
- focus change
- help and hint
You are also notified of events which actually occur during form operation. These types of events allow applications, like a screen reader, to provide alternative modalities such as speech.
- Value change
- Select and Deselect
- Scroll First, Scroll Last
- Insert, Delete
- Valid, Invalid
- ReadOnly, ReadWrite
- Required, Optional
- in-range, out-of-range
XForms 1.0 support is being added to Mozilla. Exposing access to this information will greatly improve the access of Web-based forms.
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A reader commenting on my blog asked if I would mind blogging some time on the definition of accessibility and the scope of problems that are being addressed in the industry?
At the most basic level, accessibility is about people being able to access and use a product or solution. A primary focus of accessibility is access by people with disabilities. The larger scope of accessibility includes benefits to people who do not have a declared disability or for those who dont. I would like to first address the near-term work being done in the accessibility space.
Tremendous effort is being put into operating system and desktop solutions to accommodate users with disabilities. The biggest change, which began in the mid to late 90s has been a move toward engineered APIs that allow Assistive Technologies (ATs like screen readers) to access desktop application. Additionally we are seeing a move toward integrating these ATs into operating systems. For example, the Mac desktop, the Gnome desktop, and Windows are moving to incorporate more ATs. Furthermore, the move toward engineered APIs is improving access for what I would call declarative disabilities those where people declare they have a disability. Some of the considerations for bundling solutions are: security, lack of an AT solution provider, and the opportunity to have integrated solutions with which to test the accessibility of applications and accessibility infrastructure.
The second wave, which began only in the past five years, is a move to support persons with non-declared disabilities. The biggest focus in this space has been the senior population for which IBM has been a significant contributor. As we get older we begin to experience varying degrees of disabilities. This may include, but is not limited to, varying degrees of mobility impairment, site degradation, hearing loss, and cognitive impairments. This population often does not wish to admit they have a disability or may not in fact believe one exists. Therefore, their disability is not declared. I worked on a large middleware research transcoding project for seniors which was designed to take any web page and transform it to meet specific access solutions such as magnification, increased white space between text and lines, linearized content to reduce horizontal scrolling, speech, magnification, varying color schemes to compensate for reading impairments, and other transformations. This was a precursor to an IBM service offering called the Web Adaptation Technology. This technology goes well beyond enablement and enters the realm of solutions which are tailored to the end user for ease of use. This leads into the next wave which is just now starting to take hold.
Accessibility continutes to move into the mainstream. We are using accessibility technology to help with mainstream solutions that are not just for persons with disabilities. Meta data we are incorporating into web content to address DHTML accessibility is being considered for building knowledge into the web content transformation process. For example, web content which incorporates role meta data (what the object in a web page is such as a calendar or spreadsheet and its corresponding properties) can be used to adapt content to different devices phones, pdas, etc.
In the next few years I can imagine legislation going beyond enablement, like IBM, and focusing on ease-of-use. Enabling applications for accessibility does not necessarily make them usable.
We also need to focus on the broader population in the areas of learning disabilities. Not everyone uses the same process for learning. Our systems need to adapt to these different needs. When we can do this we should see a dramatic increase in user productivity.
While I have not addressed all accessibility issues, I hope this addresses this persons request.
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In addition to device independent events, XForms also provides another powerful feature by its model-view-controller design. XForms separates content from presentation while embedding relevant meta data in user interface constructs.
XForms provides the following meta data:
label for the user interface control
hint help text for the user interface control
help help text for the user interface control
XForms also encourages intent-based authoring by introducing these constructs:
group to group a set of user interface controls
switch , and case which can be used to hide or reveal logical groups of controls
case includes a Boolean attribute called selected that allows the group of controls within that case to become active. This is important to assistive technologies, such as a screen reader, which would monitor the document to determine when to speak selected elements. If none of the cases within the switch are selected, the first case in document order becomes active by default. How those elements are rendered visually is of no consequence. The semantics are preserved.
For an in-depth look at XForms a great book to read is:
XForms: XML Powered XForms by TV Raman
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The demonstration was rendered in a nightly build of Firefox while being spoken by the Window-Eyes screen reader, from GW Micro and while being magnified by the Windows Magnifier.
When entering the menu, Window-Eyes announced "menu activated." It was able to read each of the menu items as well as the state of those that were disabled.
Spread sheet navigation announced changing row and column header inforamtion as well as whether the user were on a row header, column header, or spreadsheet cell. When an enter key was performed on a cell, Window-Eyes would announce the column header followed by the editable cell and its contents. It would echo text being entered. When cell editing was complete it announced the new contents.
The Window magnifer followed user focus as the spreadsheet cells and menu items were navigated.
This paradigm shift showed that it is now possible to deliver the kind of usability and accessibility that we can expect from an accessible GUI today in a web page. This allows for the delivery of accessible dynamic applications on multiple operating systems without the weight of a GUI.
The industry response was fantastic. We have seen interest from SAP, Google, AOL, Sun and others. Roundtable discussions included the construction of reusable open source DHTML widgets which could be incorporated into tooling for reuse by the industry.
It shows what you can do through open standards and industry cooperation.[Read More]
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DHTML Accessibility Accessibility is rapidly becoming a reality. A Technology Preview may now be seen on the Mozilla site. The demonstrations should be viewed with the latest nightly build of Firefox. These examples will work with the latest version of the Window-Eyes beta.
CSUN has posted the HTML version of our CSUN pitch. Which describes the technologies and implementation techniques. This presentation introduces the developer to the taxonomies being created which describe GUI componentry for DHTML accessibility. The taxonomies and their corresponding schemas will provide the framework for creating custom components and providing a mechanism for self-description. The plan will be to use these taxonomies to drive browser adaptation to support native platform accessibility APIs and tool validation in the future.
What is most exciting about this work is a fundamental paradigm shift whereby web pages can behave like a GUI while being fully accessible. The user agent can then map the meta data provided to the accessibility api on each platform without additional heavy lifting on the developer's behalf.
IBM is driving this effort through the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative with the plan that this be an open standard for all to use. Firefox is the leading implementation mechanism for this standard.[Read More]
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Some readers may have been following the progress of the accessibility of Linux desktops. The two main desktops being targeted for accessibility in the industry are Gnome and KDE. Both desktops use on the accessibility architecture defined by the Gnome Accessibility Project. The architecture builds off work IBM did with Sun on the Java Accessibility API back in 1998.
There are a number of, what we call, "gaps" in the total GAP solution. These are in the areas of assistive technologies and accessibility infrastructure performance. To date, the main screen reader on the platform, Gnopernicus, and the provided magnification solutions are not what users come to expect on a Windows system. Gnopernicus, is not scriptable which allows developers and end users to customize the audio interface. Magnification, today, is also limited to a window rather than full screen.
A shining star on the platform is the Gnome Onscreen Keyboard which benefits from GAP. GAP provides the list of named actions on accessible objects as well as a list of all named hypertext links in applications. The breadth of support on the Windows platform is lacking in these areas.
A more pressing issue which effects the quality of screen reader support is the provision for solid, performant document access for large applications. The problem areas are Open Office and Firefox. The accessibility architecture on GAP attempts to restrict people from gaining access to document structure. The existing API depends on numerous cross process calls to get access to information in large documents resulting in inadequate performance. Also, the use of the GAP ATK API is inadequately documented making it difficult for application developers and assistive technologies, new to the platform, to discover how to enable their products or write new assistive technologies. The performance of Open Office accessibility is also impaired by using the Java Access Bridge to implemant an accessibility API bridge between Open Office and the ATSPI. ATSPI is the CORBA-based communication layer through which assistive technologies acquire the accessibility information from the GAP architecture.
To address these issues, IBM has recently become active in the open source accessibility effort through its work in the Free Standards Group. IBM is in the process of proposing API extensions to ATK and the ATSPI to improve performance and improve access to large documents. Also, while being dormant on the screen reader front since Screen Reader/2 and the Self Voicing Kit for Java, IBM is developing plans for an open source Linux screen reader.
Also, last year IBM released Via Voice TTS for Linux through Wizzard Software. It is available in Simplified Chinese, German, Spanish, Finnish, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican Spanish, Brazillian Portuguese, Traditional Chinese, US English and UK English. We felt releasing Via Voice was essential for Linux due to its high quality at high speeds and the breadth of languages it supports.[Read More]
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Due to a large investment by IBM and the Mozilla community. Firefox is becoming as assessible as IE on Windows. The latest GW Micro private beta for Window-Eyes has support for Firefox, including support for the up-and-coming W3C accessibility effort to support scripted web content.
To find out more about Firefox accessibility check out the Accessible DHTML Preview. Aaron Leventhal is leading the Firefox enablement effort in Mozilla comunity.
Window-Eyes screen reader beta testers have indicated that they have faster access to the Web than IE.[Read More]
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We showed this to technical leads at Yahoo and AOL and the opportunity for creating accessible, Rich Internet Applications and delivering desktop solutions on par with a rich desktop applicaions was apparent.
Completion of this project will accelerate the standards effort. As we speak a cross-cutting, self describing role taxonomy and accessibility property specficationa are getting close to working draft based on proven implementations. Industry involvement to the standards effort is now growing with the addition of Adobe. The work being developed is cross-cutting in that it has applicability to:
In the current Deer Park Alpha of Firefox, XUL makes use of the same accessibility extensions for XHTML to enable some of the custom GUI widgets found in the chrome.
Another side-benefit of this work is the creation of a new role called "presentation." The use of the presentation role tells the browser that there should be no accessibility API support for a particular document element. This can be applied to table elements to indicate that the content is only presentational and for assistive technologies not to process the table elements as a table. This eliminates the need for authors to use a special style sheet to reproduce table formatting. DHTML often uses tables to produce the visible formatting needed for rich GUI-like elements. Indicating to the user agent and assistive technology that an element is only presentational removes the burden of guessing when to treat markup as presentational vs markup containing significant semantics which might impact the user experience.[Read More]
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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.
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.[Read More]