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The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)'s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is an effort to improve the accessibility of the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) for people with disabilities. People with disabilities may encounter difficulties when using computers generally, but also on the Web. Since people with disabilities often require non-standard devices and browsers, making websites more accessible also benefits a wide range of user agents and devices, including mobile devices, which have limited resources.
The W3C launched the Web Accessibility Initiative in 1997 with endorsement by The White House and W3C members. For more historical details, see. It has several working groups and interest groups that work on guidelines, technical reports, educational materials and other documents that relate to the several different components of web accessibility. These components include web content, web browsers and media players, authoring tools, and evaluation tools.
WAI develops guidelines and other technical reports through the same process as other parts of the W3C. Like other W3C initiatives, the WAI consists of several working groups and Special interest groups, each with its own focus. Only working groups can produce technical reports that become W3C recommendations. A working group can sometimes delegate specific work to a task force, which then presents its results back to the working group for approval. Interest groups may produce reports (for example, as W3C Notes), but not recommendations. Each of these types of groups (working group, task force, interest group) can have one or more mailing lists. They meet through conference calls at regular intervals (typically every week or every other week) and sometimes use web-based surveys to collect input or comments from participants. They can also meet face to face (one to five times per year).
The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines Working Group develops guidelines, techniques and supporting resources for tools that create web content, ranging from desktop HTML editors to content management systems. The accessibility requirements apply to two types of things: the user interface on the one hand, and the content produced by the tool on the other. The working group consists of representatives from organizations that produce authoring tools, researchers, and other accessibility experts. The working group produced the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 in 2000 and is currently working on Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. It also published a document on Selecting and Using Authoring Tools for Web Accessibility.
The Education and Outreach Working Group develops materials for training and education on Web accessibility. This working group has produced documents on a wide range of subjects, including:
Currently, the working group has a task force to support the work done in the WAI-AGE project. This project published a document that reviews literature about the needs of older users and compares these needs with those of people with disabilities as already addressed in WAI guidelines.
The Education and Outreach Working Group can also review working drafts produced by other WAI working groups.
The Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group develops technical specifications that support the accessibility evaluation and repair of Web sites. It also maintains a database of tools for evaluating Web sites and for making them more accessible ("repair", "retrofitting"). The working group consists mainly of developers of such tools and researchers. Current work focuses on
The Protocols & Formats Working Group reviews all W3C technologies for accessibility before they are published as a recommendation. It has also published a note on accessibility issues of CAPTCHA, a paper on natural language usage for people with cognitive disabilities, and initial work on accessibility requirements for XML-based markup languages (XML Accessibility Guidelines).
The goal of the Research and Development Interest Group is
This interest group has seen very little activity since 2004. Its current charter expired at the end of 2006.
The User Agent Accessibility Guideline Working Group develops guidelines, techniques and other documents to promote the accessibility of user agents: browsers and plug-ins. The working group consists mainly of organizations that develop user agents, researchers, and other accessibility experts. The working group published User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (UAAG 1.0) as a W3C Recommendation in 2002, and is currently working on the second version of this specification.
The WAI Interest Group is an open group with a mailing list to which anyone can subscribe. W3C staff post announcements of new WAI documents to this mailing list to invite reviews and comments. Members of the list also post announcements of relevant events and publications, and ask advice on issues related to web accessibility. The language of the mailing list is English; there are no parallel mailing lists in other languages.
The working group consists of representatives from industry, accessibility consultancies, universities, organizations that represent end users, and other accessibility experts.
The working group published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0) as W3C Recommendation in 1999, followed by techniques documents in 2000. In 2001, the working group started work on WCAG 2.0, which became a W3C Recommendation on 11 December 2008.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group is probably the most well-known working group in WAI; the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 are often simply referred to as "the WAI guidelines," even though WAI also produces other guidelines and specifications.
The WAI Coordination Group co-ordinates that activities of the WAI working groups (and interest groups). Its activities are not public.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (known as WCAG) were published as a W3C Recommendation on 5 May 1999. A supporting document, Techniques for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 was published as a W3C Note on 6 November 2000. WCAG 1.0 is a set of guidelines for making web content more accessible to persons with disabilities. They also help make web content more usable for other devices, including mobile devices (PDAs and cell phones). The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 are recognized as a de facto standard and have served as a basis for legislation and evaluation methodologies in many countries.
The WCAG working group published WCAG 2.0 as a Recommendation on 11 December 2008. WCAG 2.0 is based on very different requirements from WCAG 1.0:
The combination of more general applicability and higher precision proved very challenging.
Developed by the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, the ATAG 1.0 became a W3C Recommendation on 3 February 2000. The ATAG is a set of guidelines for developers of any kind of authoring tool for Web content: simple HTML editors, tools that export content for use on the Web (for example, word processors that can save as HTML), tools that produce multimedia, content management systems, etcetera.
The goal is for developers to create tools that:
The ATAG working group is currently working on a second version of the guidelines. A Last Call Working Draft was published in November 2004  but subsequent versions were published as normal working drafts. Implementation Techniques for ATAG 2.0 are also available as a working draft.
Developed by the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, the UAAG 1.0 became a W3C Recommendation on 17 December 2002. The UAAG is a set of guidelines for user agent developers (such as web browsers and media players) aimed at making the user agent accessible to users with disabilities. Techniques for User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 was published as a W3C Note on the same day; it provides techniques for satisfying the checkpoints defined in UAAG 1.0. Working group members also produced other supporting documents, including initial notes on How to evaluate a user agent for conformance to UAAG 1.0; this document was not formally approved by the working group. No user agents have been reported as fully conforming to UAAG 1.0.
The working group is currently working on a new version of the guidelines. The first public draft of User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 was published on 12 March 2008.
The XAG explains how to include features in XML applications (i.e. markup languages conforming to the XML specification) that promote accessibility. Work on these guidelines stopped in 2002; the guidelines are still a working draft.
WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is a draft technical specification which is yet to become a W3C Recommended Web Standard. It allows web pages (or portions of pages) to declare themselves as applications rather than as static documents, by adding role, property, and state information to dynamic web applications. ARIA is intended for use by developers of web applications, web browsers, assistive technologies, and accessibility evaluation tools.