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Open Source Community Paves Way for Developers to Improve Internet Access for the Aging


Disabled New technologies from OpenAjax Alliance greatly simplify, speed Web 2.0 application development

Aiming to greatly ease the barriers that the aging or people with disabilities experience in participating in Internet activities, the OpenAjax Alliance (OAA) announced it has created new open source tooling technology to help software developers make it dramatically easier for them to access and use Web 2.0-enabled business, government and consumer web sites.

ebizQ received the following:

The new tooling technology simplifies the way Web applications are tested for compliance with current accessibility standards and guidelines, helping to speed up delivery of new accessible Internet applications.

Previously, developers had to complete their code and run various reports to determine if their application was compliant with accessibility standards. Using the new tooling technology, applications are tested dynamically, as developers build the code, providing real-time feedback on compliance.

A recent survey suggests that a full 69 percent of companies have realized measurable business benefits from Web 2.0 in their dealings with employees, customers, suppliers and industry experts. Unfortunately, millions of people with sensory, age-related, and other disabilities worldwide have been unable to fully participate in this evolution because of barriers to access and use.

OAA maintains the new tooling technology will help narrow the Web 2.0 digital divide for many segments of the global population by facilitating consistent, industry-wide interpretation of standards such as the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0).

“From a development perspective, tooling has been the missing link,” said Michael Squillace, co-chair of the OpenAjax Alliance Accessibility Tools Task Force and IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center software engineer. “WCAG 2.0 gave us the criteria for Web 2.0 accessibility, and technical specifications like WAI-ARIA helped us understand how to enable rich Internet applications for accessibility. But, there hasn’t been a reliable way to ensure compliance or validate correct implementation of specifications for accessibility. This rules format makes that possible. It’s a significant achievement.”

The new rules format can be used by any tool vendor and is the first to integrate structural design pattern analysis to ensure that Web 2.0 sites can effectively interact with assistive technologies. But according to OAA leaders, the most important outcome of this open community effort is that it promises to spur the growth of innovation around accessibility tooling for the next-generation of Web applications and services.

"Widespread use of smart, automated testing tools is essential to making rich Web applications accessible to everyone,” said Preety Kumar, CEO, Deque Systems, Inc. “Web developers have been frustrated by inconsistent results from different tools, a problem that this Task Force has addressed with its rules format. Incorporating this specification into Worldspace as an open-community effort is already helping accelerate our mission to help build a barrier-free web."

The Accessibility Tools Task Force was initiated and established by OAA members in 2009 to develop best practices for reporting accessibility compliance and accessibility violations by accessibility test tools.

"The OAA and the Accessibility Tools Task Force is a great example of professionals coming together to solve a real problem," said Nathan Jakubiak of Parasoft Corporation, "The result, a tool-agnostic rules set for ensuring that rich internet applications are accessible for the disabled and elderly. It’s a big step forward."

And with industry leaders stepping up to meet consumer demand and open new revenue channels through the integration of usability features such as captioning for online videos, OAA believes the key to supporting the inclusive design lies in making accessibility simple and straightforward for developers.

“Most Web developers first learn about the accessibility requirements of WCAG 2.0 through the use of automated evaluation tools. OAA provides an open-source set of rules that will provide a consistent, comprehensive and extensible set of accessibility rules for the implementation of WCAG 2.0 that can be integrated into a wide variety of validation tools and Web development environments. The meaning of an ‘accessible’ Web resource or application will now be much more consistent and understood”, said Jon Gunderson, Ph.D., University of Illinois.

Since its inception, the Accessibility Tools Task Force has received industry-wide support and participation from a range of private-sector organizations and academic institutions such as Deque, Parasoft, and the University of Illinois. Together, the Task Force took on the development of the new rules format as its first and primary goal.

"The Accessible Tools initiative at OpenAjax Alliance helps bring accessibility to Web 2.0," says David Boloker, Chief Technology Officer of Emerging Technologies for IBM Software Group and Chair of the OAA Steering Committee. "One of the key focus areas for OpenAjax Alliance is Ajax tools, such as IDEs. The Accessible Tools initiative provides the testing frameworks and best practices that developers need to deliver accessible Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) using HTML5 and JavaScript."

Moving forward, the Task Force will continue to leverage WCAG 2.0 and WAI-ARIA to develop new best practices for reporting accessibility compliance and accessibility violations by accessibility test tools. It will also expand the rules repository to better support all phases of the development life cycle and the upcoming refresh to U.S. Section 508 accessibility procurement guidelines.

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