W3C /WAI, France
Shadi Abou-Zahra joined the W.3.C. in August 2003 as a Web Accessibility Specialist for Europe with the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (W.A.I.). His responsibilities include editing and developing resources for the WAI Education and Outreach Working Group; serving as a representative for W3C /WAI in Europe to help coordinate with disability organizations, standards bodies, policy makers, accessibility research organizations, and other stakeholders; and chairing the W.A.I. Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group which develops techniques to evaluate and repair Web content for accessibility.
Prior to joining W3C, Shadi worked as a Web developer, managed the design and implementation of several Web productions. From 2001 to 2003, Shadi was a Web Consultant for the International Data Centre of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria. From 1998 to 2003, he was a Systems and Web Developer for Edelweiss Medienwerkstadt, a multimedia and online games development company. During his Computer Science studies, Shadi participated in the Austrian national student council at the Technical University of Vienna as a representative for students with disabilities and advocated for equal opportunities in education.
The first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W.C.A.G.) was published as a W3C Recommendation in May 1999. Since then, the Web has rapidly evolved to become increasingly dynamic, interactive, and mobile. The W.3.C. Web Accessibility Initiative (W.A.I.) is addressing this evolution with a new generation of Guidelines that will facilitate Web site owners and developers as well as authoring tool and assistive technology producers to implement and provide accessibility on the Web.
A key concept of W.C.A.G. 2.0 is its design to be format neutral. While the success criteria themselves have become more abstract and technology independent, a techniques layer manifests these criteria into specific technologies such as the Hyper Text Markup Language (H.T.M.L.), Cascading Style Sheets (C.S.S.), or Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (S.M.I.L.). This also enables non-W.3.C. technology producers such as Adobe or Macromedia to implement accessibility features according to W.C.A.G. 2.0 criteria in technologies such as the Portable Document Format (P.D.F.) or Flash.
Another fundament on which W.C.A.G. 2.0 is being designed is testability. Experience from W.C.A.G. 1.0 implementations has shown that more clear and testable criteria are essential to promoting a common understanding for accessibility. This does not mean that Web accessibility can be fully automatable but that more precise definitions and guidance need to be made available to Web or tool developers wishing to implement the Guidelines. W.C.A.G. 2.0 will also be simpler to understand by a wider range of audience, and more easily translatable to languages other than English.
However, probably the most important aspect of W.C.A.G. 2.0 is its open and consensus based development process. It is not a simple task to develop robust accessibility guidelines that meet such a wide and sophisticated range of requirements; thus the responsible Working Group has been working dedicatedly. During this development period, the W.C.A.G. Working Group has published several draft versions of the new guidelines and received numerous comments from around the world. Most of the issues raised in response previous publishing iterations have been addressed by the group as the draft matured and became more stable. The group expects to publish a Last Call working draft once remaining issues have been closed in the near future.
There is a clear need for the harmonization of Web accessibility standards. Fragmentation of the market makes it increasingly difficult for Web site and tool developers to comply with partially competing standards and thus to provide accessibility for people with disabilities. W.C.A.G. 2.0 is intended to be a potential convergence target in the effort of diminishing this fragmentation. It is the result of working in a collaborative environment with representatives from disability organizations, developers, practitioners, researchers, policy makers, as well as other standards bodies. We invite you to take the opportunity of submitting comments on the current working drafts in order to ensure that the resulting Guidelines is truely a convergence target for all stakeholders.