The W3C is a non-profit organisation which develops protocols and guidelines for the Web. In 1996 the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) was founded to establish accessibility guidelines for the different components of the web, including web content, web browsers and media players, authoring tools and evaluation tools.
The WAI has created several working groups that work on guidelines including:
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) for content management systems (CMS)
- User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) for web browsers and screen readers
Using these W3C guidelines to test the accessibility of real websites can raise technical and methodological challenges. To overcome this, additional guidelines and standards have been developed in various countries. In France, BrailleNet developed the AccessiWeb framework for testing conformity to WCAG 2.0 success criteria which was adopted by the French government in 2015 as the basis of the revised national standard for digital accessibility in the public sector, the Référentiel Général d’Accessibilité pour les Administrations (RGAA).
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), created and maintained by W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, provide technical recommendations for making Web content accessible. This standard, which became an ISO standard in 2012, is the recognised international standard and forms the basis of both European and French e-Accessibility legislation.
In 1999, the W3C published the first version of the WCAG. Broken down into 14 guidelines, it was the first official standard providing technical criteria for making websites accessible. However, the rapid evolution of web technologies meant that this first version was soon out of date. In December 2008 a second version, WCAG 2.0, was released. It was designed to be more robust, more technology-neutral and better equipped to evolve over time.
WCAG 2.0 consists of twelve guidelines organised under four principles. Each guideline has testable success criteria. The W3C’s Techniques for WCAG 2.0 is a list of techniques that help authors to meet the guidelines and success criteria. The techniques are periodically updated whereas the principles, guidelines and success criteria are stable and do not change.
Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
Guideline 1.2: Time-based media: Provide alternatives for time-based media.
Guideline 1.3: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
Guideline 1.4: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
User interface components and navigation must be operable.
Guideline 2.1: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
Guideline 2.2: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
Guideline 2.3: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
Guideline 2.4: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
Guideline 3.1: Make text content readable and understandable.
Guideline 3.2: Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
Guideline 3.3: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
Guideline 4.1.: Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
In October 2016, the European Parliament approved the directive 2016/2102 that requires websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
WCAG has been recognised by the French government since 1999. BrailleNet was responsible for the official French translation. The AccessiWeb framework, which was developed to test conformity to WCAG 2.0 success criteria, was adopted by the French government on 29 April 2015 as the basis of the revised national standard for digital accessibility in the public sector, the Référentiel Général d’Accessibilité pour les Administrations (RGAA).
Today, the web is used to provide dynamic content and increasingly complex web services and user interfaces. Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) is a collection of specifications developed by WAI for Web developers to enable them to develop accessible websites. It includes, for example:
- Design patterns for web components (modal dialogues, sliders, drop-down menus, etc.) so that they function correctly with assistive technologies and keyboard shortcuts
- Landmarks, so that users can identify and locate the most important components of a web page
- Methods to signpost particular information on a web page that has been added or updated so that assistive technologies can process this information dynamically
AccessiWeb – France’s first web accessibility framework
Like all standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines require an operational framework if they are to be successfully transposed into accessible web applications, content, interfaces and graphic design.
As early as 2003, BrailleNet published its AccessiWeb framework to provide a unified methodology for testing web conformity against WCAG success criteria. Criteria are organised in 13 thematic sections: images, frames, colours, multimedia, tables, links, scripts, mandatory elements, structure, presentation, forms, navigation and consultation. The AccessiWeb framework has been widely used both in France and the French-speaking world.
In 2004, BrailleNet created a technical working group – the Groupe de Travail AccessiWeb – to monitor and update the AccessiWeb framework according to the needs of professionals working in the field. The GTA, which today counts over 500 members, created AccessiWeb in June 2008. In December 2008, following the publication of WGAC 2.0, BrailleNet created a French committee to produce a translation of WCAG 2.0., the first officially approved by the W3C in June 2009. In Summer 2009, this same expert committee was involved in producing AccessiWeb 2.0. which later became AccessiWeb 2.2 and then Accessiweb HTML5/ARIA.
Référentiel Général d’Accessibilité pour les Administrations (RGAA)
In application of the French law of the 11 February 2005 (n°2005-102) on the equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of people with disabilities, the first version of the Référentiel général d’accessibilité pour les administrations (RGAA) was drawn up in 2009. This first version was soon outdated and in 2013 the French government opened a call to tender to update the RGAA. A consortium of organisations, which included BrailleNet, was selected in April 2014 to update the guidelines on behalf of the DINSIC (Direction interministérielle du numérique et du système d’information et de communication de l’État).
The v.3.0 of the RGAA was approved on the 29 April 2015. This version is largely based on the AccessiWeb HTML5/ARIA guidelines and marks a significant evolution of the RGAA. The technical and methodological framework provides an operational base from which international accessibility criteria can be tested.
The RGAA is designed to be updated regularly to take account of evolving technology.
In the mid-1990s, the limitations of Braille books and talking books became increasingly apparent and a group of libraries and organisations involved in producing books for the blind gathered to discuss how digital technologies could be used to improve access to reading. In 1996 the DAISY format (DIgital Accessible Information SYstem) was created and the group became the DAISY Consortium. The DAISY format soon became an open format based on W3C languages (HTML, SMIL, SVG, XML, etc.). The latest version of DAISY (3.0) dates from 2005. It is a multimedia format and can be used for books in audio, text, and audio and text combined. DAISY allows users, for example:
- To navigate quickly within a book by section, chapter, sub-chapter, etc.;
- To access certain optional elements such as footnotes;
- To add bookmarks;
- To control the speed of reading for audio books;
- To underline text as it is read by text-to-speech software.
The EPUB format was created by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), an organisation that counts publishers, content providers and industry stakeholders among its members. At the end of the 2000s, the DAISY Consortium played a significant role at the IDPF in defining the EPUB 3.0 format. Officially published in 2011, it took on all accessibility features of the DAISY format. EPUB 3.0 is therefore a fully accessible format and can be used by mainstream publishers and organisations producing accessible books for the print disabled (blind, visually impaired, learning disabilities, etc.).
In 2016 the IDPF merged with the W3C. The W3C is now responsible for maintaining the EPUB format.
Unlike the web, there are no standards for building accessible “native” applications for desktop or mobile. This is down to the great many devices available on the market and the different operating systems available on these devices (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Android, etc.). To make an application accessible on a particular operating system the developer must use the appropriate programme interface (API).