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WAI-ARIA Overview

Page Contents

Quick links: WAI-ARIA, Primer, Authoring Practices, User Agent, FAQ

See also FAQ: What is the current status of WAI-ARIA development?


WAI-ARIA, the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. It especially helps with dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with Ajax, HTML, JavaScript, and related technologies. Currently certain functionality used in Web sites is not available to some users with disabilities, especially people who rely on screen readers and people who cannot use a mouse. WAI-ARIA addresses these accessibility challenges, for example, by defining new ways for functionality to be provided to assistive technology. With WAI-ARIA, developers can make advanced Web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities.

This page describes the problems that WAI-ARIA addresses, and introduces the WAI-ARIA suite of technical documents. Many of the terms used in this page—including Web content, user agents, and assistive technology—are described in Introduction to Web Accessibility and Essential Components of Web Accessibility. See also:

Making Ajax and Related Technologies Accessible

tree control: a list of items with one of the list items expanded to show a sub-list
Figure 1: Tree control

Web sites are increasingly using more advanced and complex user interface controls, such as tree controls for Web site navigation like the example in Figure 1. To provide an accessible user experience to people with disabilities, assistive technologies need to be able to interact with these controls. However, the information that the assistive technologies need is not available with most current Web technologies.

Another example of an accessibility barrier is drag-and-drop functionality that is not available to users who use a keyboard only and cannot use a mouse. Even relatively simple Web sites can be difficult if they require an extensive amount of keystrokes to navigate with only a keyboard.

Many Web applications developed with Ajax (also known as AJAX), DHTML, and other technologies pose additional accessibility challenges. For example, if the content of a Web page changes in response to user actions or time- or event-based updates, that new content may not be available to some people, such as people who are blind or people with cognitive disabilities who use a screen reader.

WAI-ARIA addresses these accessibility challenges by defining how information about this functionality can be provided to assistive technology. With WAI-ARIA, an advanced Web application can be made accessible and usable to people with disabilities.

Technical Solutions

More specifically, WAI-ARIA provides a framework for adding attributes to identify features for user interaction, how they relate to each other, and their current state. WAI-ARIA describes new navigation techniques to mark regions and common Web structures as menus, primary content, secondary content, banner information, and other types of Web structures. For example, with WAI-ARIA, developers can identify regions of pages and enable keyboard users to easily move among regions, rather than having to press Tab many times.

WAI-ARIA also includes technologies to map controls, Ajax live regions, and events to accessibility application programming interfaces (APIs), including custom controls used for rich Internet applications. WAI-ARIA techniques apply to widgets such as buttons, drop-down lists, calendar functions, tree controls (for example, expandable menus), and others.

WAI-ARIA provides Web authors with the following:

The WAI-ARIA Documents

In-progress "Editors' Drafts" of the WAI-ARIA documents are available from the Protocols and Formats Working Group (PFWG) Public Page.

Published WAI-ARIA Working Drafts are as follows:

W3C Recommendations and Working Group Notes are briefly explained in How WAI Develops Accessibility Guidelines through the W3C Process, which also describes milestones in the W3C Process. WAI anticipates that the WAI-ARIA documents may be completed and published the first half of 2011.

Technical document format

The WAI-ARIA documents follow the W3C format for technical specifications which includes several sections at the beginning: links to different versions, editors, copyright, abstract, and status with the link to errata and the email address for comments.

Who develops WAI-ARIA

The WAI-ARIA technical documents are developed by the Protocols and Formats Working Group (PFWG), which is part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). For more information about the working group, see the PFWG public page.

How WAI Develops Accessibility Guidelines through the W3C Process: Milestones and Opportunities to Contribute describes formal periods for public review. Opportunities for review and comment of WAI documents are announced on the WAI home page and WAI Interest Group mailing list. An email address for sending comments is included in the "Status of this Document" section.

Opportunities for contributing to WAI-ARIA and other WAI work are introduced in Participating in WAI.