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WAI-ARIA Offering Better Website and Web Applications Accessibility

Better semantics is sometimes not enough to render a sophisticated web application entirely available. That is when WAI-ARIA comes into play. It enhances the functionality and content by making it more accessible for common users. It enhances oh what HTML5 has already built for accessibility. WAI-ARIA means Web Accessibility Initiative-Accessible Rich Internet Applications. Most of us understand the literal meaning but may not be aware of its practical implementation. It can be explained in precise words as a tool to make web content and applications more accessible to people with various kinds of disabilities. It exceptionally aids in dynamic content and advanced JavaScript- incorporated UI formulated with HTML, Ajax and other such technologies.
This is quite a fantastic tool for readers who depend on screen reader technology incapable of using mouse. Such readers are often restricted from using various websites and applications due to complex functionality. Tabbed interfaces, progress bars and sliders are some of the examples of such interfaces which cannot be used by disable people. However, with the inclusion of WAI-ARIA they can use the user interface because it fixes the shortcomings in such architecturally complex pages. Thus, users reliant on assistive technology can use websites or application when WAI-ARIA is used to enhance functionality.

WAI-ARIA Complementing Semantics

WAI-ARIA allots roles to elements and provides those roles with properties and states. For example, the application may be utilizing the list item as a linked element to categorize content; however, without an ARIA-checked attribute to the role the screen reader will not be able to determine the functionality of the element. The presence of semantics alone does not add any identification. Adding the assistive element will make the device identify the function correctly. Header, h1 and nav WAI-ARIA attributes are mostly redundant for semantics; they speak for them. Instead using WAI-ARIA for elements which do not mean anything significant on their own makes it more useful and accessible.

Present Status of WAI-ARIA

The present status of WAI-ARIA is that it is still being worked upon just like HTML5 in web designing. Hence, these technologies will gradually fulfill the expectations from users. WAI-ARIA has become necessary to be included on elements which already express their meanings through their names. It can function as a stopgap providing accessibility for pages made with HTML5 while screen readers are becoming usable.

Let us look at this example:

<nav role=”navigation”> <ul>… </ul>


It appears like the nav element is doubling up in this code. This particular element connotes a list of links constituting the navigation control, but the WAI-ARIA role “navigation” is still added to the code. In certain cases the doubling up is required for instance in Internet Explorer which does not attribute the role clearly. This brings us to the question whether WAI-ARIA will be rendered unnecessary once HTML5 semantics will be fully supported. The answer is no because there will still be roles in WAI-ARIA without clashing with HTML5 elements. For instance, the Timer role in which HTML5 Time might represent timer updated with JavaScript. However, the screen reader will only see a stagnant time and not a timer. Hence, the purpose is defeated. When a screen user wishes to access WAI-ARIA roles, the browser should bring them out through accessibility API. This facilitates a screen user to interact with those elements in a similar manner as it would access desktop controls. Browser support for ARIA is increasing and is in a good condition at present. ARIA is active on all the latest browsers even if it partially present. Finally, users who could be actually benefited by using WAI-ARIA are not really using it. The WebAIM survey revealed that 28% disabled users do not surf the pages with the help of ARIA landmarks. However, the good news is that the number of users is increasing. People are gradually becoming aware of WAI-ARIA which has increased their support. The benefits are expected to increase with time.


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