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:
- WAI-ARIA press release: W3C Announces Roadmap for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA)
- WAI-ARIA FAQ answers questions such as: "What happens in current and older browsers when WAI-ARIA is implemented?" and "As a Web content developer, what should I do with WAI-ARIA now?"
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.
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:
- Roles to describe the type of widget presented, such as "menu," "treeitem," "slider," and "progressmeter"
- Roles to describe the structure of the Web page, such as headings, regions, and tables (grids)
- Properties to describe the state widgets are in, such as "checked" for a check box, or "haspopup" for a menu.
- Properties to define live regions of a page that are likely to get updates (such as stock quotes), as well as an interruption policy for those updates—for example, critical updates may be presented in an alert dialog box, and incidental updates occur within the page
- Properties for drag-and-drop that describe drag sources and drop targets
- A way to provide keyboard navigation for the Web objects and events, such as those mentioned above
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:
- WAI-ARIA technical specification, a planned W3C Recommendation Web standard, combines the two previously-published WAI-ARIA draft specifications: Roles for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA Roles) and the States and Properties Module for Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA States and Properties). It is primarily for developers of Web browsers, assistive technologies, and other user agents; developers of Web technologies (technical specifications); and developers of accessibility evaluation tools.
- WAI-ARIA Primer, a planned W3C Working Group Note, introduces developers to the accessibility problems that WAI-ARIA is intended to solve, the fundamental concepts, and the technical approach of WAI-ARIA.
- WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices, a planned W3C Working Group Note, describes how Web content developers can develop accessible rich internet applications using WAI-ARIA. It provides detailed advice and examples directed primarily to Web application developers, yet also useful to user agent and assistive technology developers.
- WAI-ARIA User Agent Implementation Guide, a planned W3C Recommendation Web standard, describes how browsers and other user agents should support WAI-ARIA; specifically, how to expose WAI-ARIA features to platform accessibility APIs.
- WAI-ARIA Roadmap, a planned W3C Working Group Note, defines the path to make rich Web content accessible, including steps already taken, remaining future steps, and a timeline. Much of the content from previous drafts of the Roadmap has been moved to the WAI-ARIA Primer.
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.
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.