Reflecting on 2012 it amazes me how quickly our technology habits have changed this year: my traditional workplace computer seemed so ultra-modern at the start of the year, but now its lack of touchscreen, and dependency on a keyboard and mouse makes it seem clunky and outdated.
Likewise, my single-core Android 2.3 phone seemed to be in its prime in January, but by December it lags — literally — when compared with phones that support cutting-edge apps, slick updated versions of operating systems and 4G support. Even Apple managed to stuff in two iPad launches this year! Changes in accessibility features have also accelerated with even the Narrator screen reader in Windows receiving its first major upgrade in 12 years.
Yet if you think it's tough keeping up with the consumer side of tech, spare a thought for the people who strive to make sure that all the web standards keep up with our ever-changing use of the web. In accessibility circles, it is the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) that ensures current and future web technologies remain effective for people with disabilities. As the year draws to a close, it's time once again to reflect on some of the contributions that the W3C WAI has made to make the web more accessible in 2012.
There's been a notable increase in collaboration between different working groups this year, especially around establishing a process for evaluating website accessibility. This year saw the creation of WCAG-EM, produced by the collaborative efforts of the WCAG 2.0 Evaluation Methodology Task Force (Eval TF), a joint task force of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (WCAG WG) and Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group (ERT WG) with an aim to create an internationally harmonised methodology for evaluating the accessibility conformance of websites to WCAG 2.0. It defines an approach for conformance evaluation in different contexts, including self-assessment and third-party evaluation. The idea is to make a methodology that is applicable to any website regardless of the evaluation tool, web browser or assistive technology that is being used. After its initial release earlier in the year a significant update to the working draft in September provides great promise in effectively supporting how people evaluate websites.
Another great initiative in 2012 for people wanting to get involved in web accessibility is the WAI-Engage community group, an open forum for responsive development of material supporting web accessibility. Its resources and wikis have grown significantly over the year who want to get involved in web accessibility but aren't sure where to start, and is likely to continue being well supported in 2013.
Perhaps the biggest announcement though was the formal approval of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) as an ISO/IEC International Standard with the not-so-catchy name of ISO/IEC 40500. As discussed last month, the great thing about this announcement is that it has the potential to move the web accessibility away from a 'please do it' argument to a 'just do it' one as it is in many other industries where ISO standards are incorporated into construction and design. Hopefully 2013 will see this in practice.
Other areas of WAI have continued their developments throughout 2012 including a number of updates of techniques documents by the Education and Outreach Working Group including a number of resources such as their mobile accessibility information. In addition to WCAG-EM the Web Content Working Group released its Applying WCAG 2.0 to Non-Web Information and Communications Technologies (WCAG2ICT) First public Working Draft, focusing on incorporating WCAG-style guidance to technologies that don't entirely fit in the Web space. This may be helpful in applying accessibility to some of the emerging areas mentioned earlier and I suspect this will receive greater attention in 2013.
While WAI-ARIA development in the Protocols and Formats Working Group has had a fairly quiet year, the Authoring Tools Working Group have continued work on the ATAG 2.0 draft with a new public draft in April and an editor's draft in September. The User Agents Working Group has also updated the UAAG 2.0 draft in October to better support emerging technologies like web browsers that use touchscreens as their primary interface.
Outside of WAI, 2012 has also seen significant developments in other web accessibility-related areas including HTML5. Philosophical differences between the WHATWG and W3C aside, there's been a notable increase in browser support and screen reader support for HTML5 providing increased opportunity for developers to integrate better accessibility features.
So what's next for 2013? A clue may be in the recent launch of the Independent User Interface (Indie UI) Working Group to develop a way for user actions to be communicated to web applications, including assistive technologies. The group is in its infancy but is another example of how WAI is looking to address the ever-changing concept of the web across different devices and platforms.
Before signing off for the year, I'd like to thank everyone that has taken the time to read the column and look forward to providing more information on all things W3C accessibility-related in 2013.