Wednesday, October 8, 2008

WAI-ARIA evangelism, dojo, jQuery

A portion of my time these days is spent evangelizing the Web2.0 accessibility solution: WAI-ARIA (for Accessible Rich Internet Applications). In 2007 I had a lot of fun working with Becky Gibson, Simon Bates, and others to make the dojo toolkit widgets (dijit) fully accessible with keyboard control, high contrast mode support, and ARIA semantics. In the end we ended up doing a most of the code, and the testing, ourselves. We knew even then this was not ideal and what is really needed is to make accessibility part of the core widget design and creation process. If not that, then at least to engage a few core dijit contributors, ones that have been around a while, and will stick around in the foreseeable future. Becky, and another colleague of mine, Joseph Scheuhammer continue the Dojo accessibility effort now. Dojo accessibility is still healthy.

Now it is 2008, and I'm onto a new project, with a role that essentially boils down to: help glue a viable ARIA ecosystem together -- connecting browser, toolkit, and AT (assistive technology) efforts. One piece of this puzzle is helping the jQuery community add ARIA semantics into jQuery UI. In this particular effort I am enjoying working with my colleague Michelle D'Souza who is also busy keeping the Fluid team engine running with her agile-fu. What is different this time is that we are trying our hardest not to dive in and write the code, and to avoid being perceived as the accessibility silver bullet.

Enter Scott González, respected jQuery UI contributor. In tackling ui.dialog we worked with Scott (and to a lesser extent Paul Bakaus), to add keyboard and ARIA support. With Scott's help we put some basic support for ARIA into ui.core, and added a role of "dialog", and aria-labelledby property that points to the dialog's title ID. This means that when focus goes to the dialog, a screen reader will announce that focus is in a dialog, and the user can query for the name of the dialog. Two function calls and we go from zero, to full accessibility. What is important here, is that Scott was keen to jump in on this work, and in the end he came away with an understanding of ARIA (and we came away with a better understanding of jQuery UI).

It would be relatively simple for us to go ahead and add ARIA semantics to the rest of jQuery UI, but we shouldn't. We absolutely must be patient and it is paying off. Scott is helping organize the jQuery ARIA effort, which is awesome! Equally awesome, the filament group is joining... but more on that later.

Thanks for reading.


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