Access iQ spoke to Michael Curran, co-founder of NV Access (creator of the NVDA screen reader) on what the decision by the W3C to make its Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) 1.0 specification an official standard might mean for the future of screen reader applications.
Access iQ: In your view, what will making ARIA an official standard mean for developers of screen readers?
Michael Curran: ARIA has already been greatly embraced by web authors, especially over the last year or so. We would hope that with it gaining official status, this would cause an even greater uptake, not only for websites of larger organisations, but also for much smaller ones.
How is NV Access reacting or planning to react to ARIA’s official status?
NV Access has played a fundamental part in bringing ARIA to where it is today. This has been through providing consulting and opinion to standards bodies and to the creators of initial prototypes over the many years of ARIA's existence, but also due to the fact that the NVDA screen reader has had much support for ARIA from the beginning. It's probably business as usual for NV Access today, which means we will continue to ensure NVDA's support for ARIA is as good as it can be, together with standards bodies and website authors that blind and vision impaired people across the world don't get left behind with the 21st century web.
What new screen reader features will be enabled or will be forthcoming as a result of the ARIA standard?
For several years now, ARIA has been providing the means to make complex web applications accessible. This includes toolbars, menus, dialogs, embedded applications, sliders and so forth. Live regions (dynamic content that should be spoken when changed) is also important in this day and age, and the introduction of landmarks to better break down a page structurally is also great.
What does the ARIA standard mean for users of current or older versions of screen reader software?
The web is changing very fast, and thankfully standards such as ARIA are doing their best to ensure that accessibility does not get left behind. However, as the ARIA standard is still relatively new and is still changing, screen readers are having to add more support for ARIA in each new release. Therefore if it’s at all possible, users should try to ensure they always run the latest release of a screen reader, to ensure the greatest compatibility and functionality. This is of course a major benefit of NVDA as it is free, including future updates.
Is there anything else user of screen readers need to know about ARIA and how it will affect their screen reading software?
Obviously, if a screen reader does not support ARIA, it will get left behind, and eventually very well may stop its users from accessing many modern websites. Not only because new controls or paradigms may now rely on ARIA, but also because many of the older web authoring tricks and hacks for screen readers may no longer be used, now that ARIA has proven to be a much cleaner solution, not to mention a standard.