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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Standards for accessibility to browsers and multimedia players have been hammered out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) after four-years' work.

The Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) 1.0 were ratified this week and set standards for developers of audio and video players, and web browser applications so products can be easily used by people with impairments or disabilities.

UAAG 1.0 was developed by the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines working group, formed in 1998, with input from leading browser or media vendors such as Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp, Netscape Inc, Opera and RealNetworks Inc.

The standards follow on from W3C's earlier work for accessibility to web sites and authoring tools - the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were published in May 1999 and the Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines, to simplify tools and coding used to build accessibility features, appeared in February 2000.

The W3C's latest standards are designed to provide developers with a consistent set of guidelines for adding accessibility features when building applications. Presently, accessibility guidelines are fragmented according to geographical, industry, vendor or specific disabilities or conditions.

For example, the US government adheres to section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act for accessibility to web sites and generic computer software. However, section 508 is regarded as a "starting point" not a full standard, the W3C said, while different accessibility rules and guidelines also exist in Japan and Europe.

Also, while some browser and media players already support accessibility features, such as audio description of a web page, such features can be difficult to access because there is no prescribed standard of development.

Janet Brewer, W3C director of the web accessibility initiative, said: "The W3C was asked by a number of partners in different countries to take on the initiative and work with solutions that will be well adopted."

UAAG 1.0 sets standards in a number of areas, including voice recognition, screen readers to describe the contents of a web page verbally, screen magnifiers and enlargement. Test suites and W3C documentation is also available.

Early, partial implementations of UAAG 1.0 are in progress from IBM, Microsoft and Adobe among others.

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