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A brief history

Most web developers will have heard of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), especially since the launch of version 2 in December 2008. Perhaps less well known, but just as important, are the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG).

The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) documents define how authoring tools should help Web developers produce Web content that is accessible and conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The ATAG documents also explain how to make authoring tools accessible so that people with disabilities can use the tools.

ATAG Overview

Version 1 of ATAG was approved in 2000, so the guidelines are certainly in need of revision. Last week W3C announced a call for review of version 2 of the guidelines, with comments invited until 16th March.

There are two distinct parts to ATAG 2.0:

  • Part A: Making the authoring tool user interface accessible – which includes “principles and associated guidelines that are related to ensuring accessibility of the authoring tool user interface to authors with disabilities“.
  • Part B: Support the production of accessible content – which includes “principles and guidelines related to ensuring support by authoring tools for the creation of accessible Web content by any author (not just those with disabilities) to end users with disabilities“.

Why should we care about ATAG?

I’m currently trying to get my organisation to realise how important ATAG is when it procures a new web CMS later this year. There has been lots of lovely talk of WCAG but we really can’t afford to neglect ATAG in our specifications or we could end up with a product which prevents some of our own staff from publishing content. In such a scenario the cost of making reasonable adjustments later, in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), would be horrendous. We’d potentially be stuck with something that is not fit for purpose.

But there is a far wider significance, brought about by the rise of Web 2.0 which has given everyone the power to be an author. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and WordPress are all examples of authoring tools – they allow the user to publish content. If such tools are developed in the spirit of ATAG, they will be far more accessible to users who wish to publish to these platforms. Equally, they will assist everyone else in making sure their content is accessible, regardless of their technical knowledge.

ATAG goes hand in hand with WCAG, and both are going to be crucial in the drive towards an inclusive web. ATAG may have once been of interest only to a small audience of software developers, but it now finds itself a vital ingredient in the brave new world of Web 2.0. As the importance of producing accessible content becomes ever clearer, those who ignore ATAG could well find that they are being shunned not only by certain disabled users, by but everyone else too.

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