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Web 'govt' lays down access laws

W3C recommends online accessibility guidelines

One of the internet's key standards bodies, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), has issued new recommendations to ensure that the internet is accessible to people with disabilities.

Last week the Massachusetts-based standards group published its recommended guidelines for designing web browsers, multimedia players and other web software to try to make the internet more accessible to people with disabilities.

Called the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, these recommendations complete a three-pronged approach by the W3C to make the web more open to all. The organisation's other proposed guidelines deal with designing accessible web content and authoring tools.

Other groups are also pushing for a more accessible internet. Last week the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) also launched a campaign setting out the needs of disabled people on the web.

"RNIB warmly welcomes these new guidelines from W3C," said Julie Howell, a campaigns officer for the RNIB. "It is vital that the technology at the user end (such as browsers and screenreaders) is able to make good sense of the code it interprets. These guidelines [are] part of the global effort to ensure that the web can be used by everyone, regardless of ability or disability."

Judy Brewer, director of web accessibility initiatives at the W3C, said the recommendations spell out how developers can address web accessibility by implementing the guidelines.

She said the W3C guidelines detail how such things as keyboard navigation and communication with specialised software can benefit people with visual, hearing, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities. Such software includes speech synthesisers, screen magnifiers and other user interface features.

For example, she said, user interface designers can develop ways for people who are blind, or have a physical disability, to use keyboard commands, rather than a mouse and cursor, to navigate the web.

For the hearing-impaired, developers could build in text captions for multimedia presentations, Brewer said. Brewer said the W3C hopes to make final recommendations by the end of the year.

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