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Speeding adoption of WAI-ARIA

The Web Accessiiblity Initiative’s Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, WAI-ARIA is a simple way to add information to HTML that can make Ajax applications accessible. It’s being supported by all the big four browsers and screenreaders are starting to support it.

Therefore, although the specification is still formally in “Working Draft” status, the W3C are encouraging authors to use it now. I plan to; it’s the only game in town to add the necessary semantics to lovable old HTML 4 until HTML 5 is widely implemented.

To encourage adoption, there is a mailing list called the Free ARIA google group which you can read and join.

Opera is taking the message to the Ajax crew at the Ajax Experience conference next week, and Anne Van Kesteren is presenting “Ajax 2.0” in which he’ll introduce and demo ARIA (and other exciting things).

Speaking from my experience as a web author, though, one of the things that might slow adoption is the fact that new semantics like ARIA don’t validate against the old HTML specs. As someone who has spent half a decade badgering people about valid code, I know that lots of enlightened organisations don’t allow invalid code on their websites—and these are just the kind of thought-leaders who I’d like to see adopting ARIA.

The experimental HTML 5 validator has support for ARIA but doesn’t have the kudos of the W3C name.

So, I suggest that the W3C to add ARIA to the official validator. That would send a strong message about its commitment to ARIA, as well as allow codeshops, organisations and individuals who want validation to use it, to the immediate benefit of web users with disabilities.

Added Tues 30 September: Steve Faulkner, of the Paciello Group and member of the W3C‘s Protocols and Formats Working Group has asked if the W3C can build an a validator that can test (X)HTML and ARIA conformance.

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11 Responses to “ Speeding adoption of WAI-ARIA ”

Comment by Arjan

For now, as a workaround, you can use JavaScript to add the attributes for you. Since you actually only use WAI-ARIA when you change the page’s content with JavaScript, it is a pretty solid solution for now.

Comment by Matt Machell

I suspect the relative scarcity of decent tutorials (certainly compared with other standards topics) is a bit of a roadblock too. Though sites pooling resources are starting to spring up (

Also, I suspect that if one of the big JS libraries decides to make a big thing of ARIA support in their widgits it will also increase adoption.

Comment by bruce

Talking of the big JS libraries, I was chatting to PPK yesterday, who’s Question Master at a panel of the JS Librarians at Ajax Experience, and I suggested he ask about planned ARIA support in the libraries. He’s added it to the list of questions.

Comment by David Storey

Does the official w3c html5 validator support aria? it’s currently in beta. I’d check myself but I’m mobile right now.

Comment by steve faulkner

Great to hear that Anne is demoing live regions at the ajax experience conference.

bruce wrote:
“it’s the only game in town to add the necessary semantics to lovable old HTML 4 until HTML 5 is widely implemented.”

Even when HTML5 is widely implemented there will still be a role for ARIA in HTML5 as many important features of ARIA (such as live regions, the labelledby and describedby properties) are not included within HTML5 as it is currently specced, we can hope that will change…

It is also good to rememebr that ARIA can be used in conjunction with other languages such as XUL and SVG and others, not only (X)HTML.

bruce wrote:
“that new semantics like ARIA don’t validate against the old HTML specs.”

this is an issue that I have been wondering about, i have discussed the possibility with Henri Sivonen of validating HTML 4 + ARIA, but he is not keen on the idea. There is also the issue of what would constitute a ‘valid’ HTML4+ARIA document. Henri’s implementation of ARIA in HTML5 integration is purely experimental based on his ideas (most of which i think are well thought out) of what and how ARIA should be allowed in HTML5. No such integration rules have been put forward for HTML4.

What i would like to see is an agnostic ARIA syntax checker that can be used to test ARIA code against any host language. I don’t know how practical that is.

@David Storey, the W3C HTML5 validator does not currently support HTML5+ARIA validation

Comment by steve faulkner

Correction – in regards to dev version of W3C HTML validator
henri Sivonen wrote:
“If you use the HTML5 doctype, you can get the same ARIA validation at that you can get at”

“Steve, I hope that HTML 5 will adopt all the important features of ARIA.”

There are 2 strands to this:
1. will HTML5 allow ARIA to be used in HTML5 and be conforming, short answer for most of ARIA I think yes. For some of the ARIA features that duplicate HTML5 features,probably not, this will be an issue until those native HTML5 features are supported by Assistive Tech.
2. Will HTML5 incorporate native features that do away with the need for ARIA, in some cases yes and other cases no. There has been little or no discussion of inclusion of ARIA features such as live regions, and doubt that they will be included. Will be happy to be proved wrong.

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