[Accessibleweb] W4A Conference Report

Rick Ells rells at cac.washington.edu
Thu May 17 10:14:52 PDT 2007

Terry and I just got back from the International Cross-Disciplinary
Conference on Web Accessibility (W4A) which was held last week in
conjunction with the World Wide Web conference in Banff, Alberta. Below is
my trip report (URLs are at the bottom). Lots of interesting stuff, My
longer trip report is at


Trip Report - W4A/WWW

May 7-12, Banff, Alberta, Canada

"Magic is stuff you do not understand, yet." - Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Two Conferences In One

* [1]International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web
Accessibility (W4A) - Includes all papers
* [2]16th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW) - Refereed

Accessibility Presentations

Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) - [3]Becky Gibson kicked
off W4A with an overview of work on enabling the accessibility of Web
2.0 sites. Becky described an impressive level of cooperative working
between Google, Microsoft, IBM, and W3C to define and apply the
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) methods to interactive
Web interfaces, including the development of the [4]Dojo JavaScript
* The Dojo Toolkit is still under active development - Version 1.0
is expected out this Fall.
* FireFox 3 will have full support of ARIA

Enhancing for Accessibility - UW's [5]Jeffrey Bigham and Richard
Ladner described AccessMonkey which, like GreaseMonkey, creates
Javascript enhancements of Web pages. AccessMonkey could be used to
create more accessible navigation on a page, for example. The concept
is to empower disabled users to add useful functionality to pages they
are interested in. Communities of users with common needs can share
the functions. Site developers can keep an eye on what such
communities are developing for ideas on how to enhance their sites.
This approach had me musing on some interesting questions:
* What are the best site design methods to support general use,
while enabling user community enhancements? What design methods
should be avoided?
* Does user-side enhancement relieve the site developer of
responsibility for addressing the needs of specific communities,
such as the disabled or the elderly?

Supporting Accessibility - Microsoft's [6]Shelly and Young sorted out
levels of complexity in Web pages that affect accessibility and
described specific coding approaches for moderate complexity DHTML.
Their presentation broke Web pages into four levels, with suggestions
on how to support accessibility at each level:
* Static (X)HTML - Essentially documents, such pages should be
structured and use semantic markup,
* Simple Dynamic (X)HTML - Such pages may include alerts, pop-ups,
but generally do not modify the DOM. Structured, semantic,
validated markup should be accessible.
* Moderate Complexity DHTML - Such pages include user interface (UI)
widgets such as toolbars, menus, dialogs and sliders and are
likely to do runtime modification of the DOM. Areas of the page
may be updated without page loads. In addition to structured,
semantic, validated markup, UI widgets can be mapped to (X)HTML
semantics, with occasional workarounds for limitations of current
browsers and AT, to address accessibility. Care needs to be taken
not to mess up the DOM.
* Complex DHTML - Some pages go beyond what can be reasonably be
modeled in (X)HTML, such as interactive spreadsheets, and will
need to be implemented with [7]WAI-ARIA methods to be accessible.

Accessible Mathematics - [8]Bernareggi and Archambault described
progress in making mathematics accessible to the blind. Their primary
point is that [9]MathML is an excellent approach to making mathematics
accessible. One challenge is that many different kinds of braille
exist, particularly in how math is represented, but MathML can be
converted to most of the common forms of braille.

The Importance of Headings - [10]Watanabe presented a classic
usability research paper on the value of a good structure of headings
in a Web page, demonstrating that headings can sharply reduce task
completion time for blind as well as sighted users.

Accessibility Into The Future - [11]Kelly et al suggested that the
future of Web development, with its growing complexity, will require
that achieving accessibility be less a rules and criteria process and
more of a cooperative process among stakeholders. Kelly characterized
the shift as a move from "cathedral" (idealized, centralized, and
heirachical) to "bazaar" (decentralized, pragmatic, democratic). "The
focus will be on the journey, not the destination," said Kelly.

Interesting Tools - Several interesting tools were mentioned in the
course of the presentations:
* [12]Unicorn Universal Conformance Checker - A one-stop validation
site, still under development.
* [13]IBM Multimedia Accessibility Tool - Not quite here yet, but
* [14]HearSay Csurf - An open-source context directed tool for
non-visual Web browsing. Cool!
* [15]Scribd - Ostensibly for sharing documents, but it will read
your document to you.
* [16]Audyssey Gaming Magazine - Audio games for the blind.


1. http://www.w4a.info/
2. http://www2007.org/prog-Papers.php
3. http://www.w4a.info/2007/prog/k1-gibson.pdf
4. http://dojotoolkit.org/
5. http://www.w4a.info/2007/prog/3-bigham.pdf
6. http://www.w4a.info/2007/prog/65-shelly.pdf
7. http://www.w3.org/TR/aria-roadmap/
8. http://www.w4a.info/2007/prog/108-bernareggi.pdf
9. http://www.w3.org/Math/
10. http://www.w4a.info/2007/prog/157-watanabe.pdf
11. http://www.w4a.info/2007/prog/138-kelly.pdf
12. http://qa-dev.w3.org/unicorn/
13. http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/21230.wss
14. http://www.cs.sunysb.edu/~hearsay/
15. http://www.scribd.com/
16. http://www.angelfire.com/music4/duffstuff/audyssey.html

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