W3C recommends online accessibility guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has issued recommendations to ensure that the Internet is accessible to people with disabilities.

Last week, the Cambridge, Mass.-based standards group published its recommended guidelines for designing Web browsers, multimedia players and other Web software that will be more accessible to people with disabilities.

Called the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, these recommendations complete a three-pronged approach by the W3C to make the Web more accessible. The organization’s other proposed guidelines deal with designing accessible Web content and authoring tools.

Judy Brewer, director of Web accessibility initiatives at the W3C, said the recommendations spell out how developers can address Web accessibility by implementing the guidelines.

She said the guidelines detail how such things as keyboard navigation and communication with specialized software benefit people with visual, hearing, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities. Such software includes speech synthesizers, screen magnifiers and other user interface features.

For example, she said, user interface designers can develop ways for people who are blind, or have a physical disability, to use keyboard commands, rather than a mouse and cursor, to navigate the Web.

For the hearing-impaired, developers could build in text captions for multimedia presentations, Brewer said. And for users who may be color blind, the W3C recommends that developers give people some control over the user interface’s appearance.

Brewer said the W3C hopes to make final recommendations by the end of the year.

The W3C, with more than 520 member organizations, develops common protocols that promote Web interoperability.

Members of the working group include Adobe Systems Inc., America Online Inc. subsidiary Netscape Communications Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Nokia Corp., Quark Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Xerox Corp.