We spend a lot of time on the very basics. It takes a lot of effort just to make Firefox accessible with the various tools out there, to create the polished experience that people with disabilities want. We struggle to create new standards to allow the future dynamic web to be accessible.
But what about the web itself? Content needs to be accessible, right? Too many web pages don’t bother, probably because of lack of awareness or knowledge of the issues, or a concern about the amount of work involved.
Fortunately, there are tools to help developers that are willing to try them. What web accessibility testing tools exist for Firefox?
- The Firefox Accessibility Extension from the University of Illinois. This one
- The WAVE toolbar from WebAIM (please help review so they can get out of the addons sandbox!)
- WAT toolbar (being ported to Firefox, not available yet). If you want to check it out now, try WAT for IE.
- The Color contrast analyzer also from the WAT folks, has the beginnings of a table and live region analyzer. Eventually this will become part of the WAT toolbar.
- TAW3 from Fundación CTIC, an automated checker that creates a report from the page.
Outside of Firefox, there are others, such as the IBM Rational Policy Tester Accessibility Edition (what a mouthful!) — formerly known as just “Bobby”. Feel free to add a comment about any tools you like (or don’t).
Major Opportunities to Improve
Accessibility testing could become part of mainstream tools like Firebug or the Web Developer Toolbar. This would raise awareness quite a bit, as these extensions are used by millions of developers. We’d need to do a good job of finding a natural way to integrate into the features that already exist. For example, the Firebug HTML view could highlight incorrect markup or accessibility violations. There could be a quick search for various kinds of markup, and we could have a log of errors can help developers jump back to the root source code which caused the problems. We can learn from accessibility tools that visualizing problems right in the page content is very useful. And in general, if we’re to successfully integrate, we need to have a high signal to noise ratio — developers will ignore a11y errors if they are not accurate and important.
Another place to improve is Web 2.0 and AJAX accessibility testing. Current generation accessibility tools expect static pages. As we know, the web is not static. The new tools need to help developers add the right WAI-ARIA markup to put meaning to the dynamic chaos.
Finally, we can use open source methodologies and work together better as a community. Why should there be so many independent efforts? Let’s pool resources this time around. IBM, the Paciello Group and the University of Illinois are already in discussions about how we can work together on a new generation of tools. The plan is share and reuse code as much as possible, and make features available both in mainstream and specialized accessibility tools.
Where do we go from here?
Please share your insights. We need as many perspectives as possible!
- Which of the current generation of accessibility tools works best for you and why?
- What are the best features of each tool?
- What are possible integration points in mainstream tools like Firebug?
- Where do current tools fail
Feel free to dream.