Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
Guidelines and Techniques


It is the task of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI - a W3C working group) to suggest ways to make the web more accessible to disabled individuals. Normally, with regard to the net, this refers to those with vision problems, especially the blind. Therefore, the focus of the initiative is to specify how content providers should use the HTML language in order to make it easier for third party text to audio products to render intelligible output without knowing that the document is written in html.

Rather than use some intelligence, the WAI has come up with a list of guidelines which significantly reduce a page author's control over how pages are formatted and presented in order to make up for the poor performance of commercial browsers and text to audio products. (Generically referred to as user agents.)

My take is real simple,

Obviously, I don't subscribe to the Least Common Denominator theory.

Specifically, the WAI requires that all content be presentable on small, low resolution, black and white monitors as well as on systems without any monitor at all.

Non-Text Elements | Color | Headings | Lists | Tables | Presentation | Summary

Non-Text Elements

All non-text elements must have a text description. This includes images, image maps, buttons and the like. It also includes program code (Java, Java script, ActiveX, and the like). Movies and animations require more extensive descriptions.

Audio information must also have text (a caption) that describes it. When movies or animations are provided, then the text must be synchronized to the audio track.

(Actually, I agree with most of this. However, better tools must first be provided if page designers are going to provide captioning of movies and the playback software must provide a mechanism for users to disable the captions.)


Color must not be used to convey information because many people are color blind or use monochrome displays.

I say - This would be better handled by having codes which describe the use of color to the browser and letting the user configure the browser to modify the presentation. Page designers should not be limited by this requirement.

BTW, if color has meaning, will laser printer output be readable?


Headings must always be used in the correct order (1 then 2 then 3 ...) so that they will describe structure. They should never be used to control looks (format).

I say - bull. I use <H3> tags on this page because they look better (my opinion) than <H1>.


Lists should all be numbered, built-in bullets and graphics should not be used. Bullets must not privide any information, such as New or Sale.

I say - Let the browser handle this. It is not the developer's position to make a list harder to read for 90% of the people because user agents (browsers) don't understand how to interpret a common language element.


Do not use <ul> to indent material. This must be reserved for lists only.

I say - The W3 should provide an indent tag so that this trick is not necessary.


Most designers use Tables to solve all kinds of formatting problems. Unfortunately, this confuses many non-sighted people.

Specifically, text must not be allowed to wrap in a Table column because this confuses screen text to audio converters. Current converters read all the way accross the screen before reading the next line .

All tables should have captions because users are too lazy to read your page and really understand what you are saying.


Don't use any formatting which makes a page more readable to viewers with normal sight because this would give them an unfair advantage. Indent, bold, italic, and center are bad tags. This is why future versions of html won't support them.

Obviously, I don't agree with this.


The WAI also doesn't like frames.

Neither do I. You never know which frame is going to be printed and it is difficult to bookmark a page.


There are many more sections of the WAI guidelines which I strongly disagree with. I suggest that you read these guidelines before you are forced to follow them. Now is the time to speak out.


The WAI is placing the very real needs of the disabled and cognitivly challanged (their term, not mine) ahead of the desires of the rest of us. It is a realativly simple matter to add a few new tags to html and to design new browsers which meet all the WAI concerns without destroying the web. The following comparisions are instructive The WAI should be suggesting ways to make information available to a wide variety of people, but requiring access via an antiquated software (Lynx and existing text to audio tools) is the wrong approach. New technology and change provide the best solution, not simply designing for the current least common denominator.

Granted, the WAI's suggestions are just recomendations, but as many of you know, recomendations quickly become requirements. How many managers simply grab a recommendation and say Thou Shalt ...

Author: Robert Clemenzi - clemenzi@cpcug.org
URL: http:// cpcug.org / user / clemenzi / technical / HTML_Examples / Accessable.htm