WAI-ARIA Explained PDF Print E-mail

Elderly woman using a laptopWhat is it?

The Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) is a technical specification, composed by the W3C, which describes how to make dynamic Web applications which utilize AJAX, JavaScript, HTML, and other related technologies, more accessible.  This specification describes the semantics and metadata which may be used to structure code in such a way that, by clearly labeling areas of your Web site as the main navigation, search box, content, and more, screen readers are better able to interpret what they come across.  The specification also allows you to declare certain portions of your site as dynamic, which gives these readers the heads up that they should pay attention for content changes in these areas.

Who uses it?

ARIA has quickly become popular among browser and screen reader developers, and has already been implemented in Firefox 1.5, Jaws 7.0, ZoomText, and Window Eyes 5.5, among others.  If a browser or screen reader does not support the additional mark-up, don't worry, they'll simply skip over it, and it won't cause any harm.

Why is it important?

One of the big accessibility challenges faced by screen readers today is that while in the days of old, hyperlinks were simply text or image based links, but today, almost anything can be a link, clickable, draggable, and more!  Items such as sliders or progress bars may be impossible for a screen reader to interpret, and the overall site practically unusable, without assistance from the Web developer.

How do I use it?

One way to clarify the situation is through the use of XHTML's roles and properties.  Popular structural roles include tab, navigation, menubar, toolbar, breadcrumbs, search, banner, main, secondary, group, section, and liveregion.  Properties include notes about the state of the object, such as whether or not a menu is collapsed or expanded, if a form field is required, and how to interpret progress bars.  For more information on these properties and how to use them, please review W3C's official documentation.