W3C News Roundup: Annotations and Disability Access
Some of the major announcements from the W3C over the past week on making the web more accessible and powerful as a publishing platform.
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DZone is always on the cutting edge of bringing our readers the latest advancements in technology. This includes presenting announcements and updates to these announcements as they occur. With this in mind, the W3C, World Wide Web Consortium, has had some major announcements in the past several years regarding web annotations in academia and how to help make the web more accessible to those with disabilities in conjunction with MAUR, Media Accessibility User Requirements.
Annotations Changes Start in Academia
In academia and printed textbooks or scholarly journals and research papers, annotations have been used for centuries. On a printed page of paper with text, students or instructors could simply highlight text or make notes in the margins. However, in recent years, many textbooks and research journals have been moved online.
With the vast majority of students or researchers now turning to the worldwide web for information, this left the world of academics with the need to use annotations online in the browser of choice.
The W3C wants to create a full, shared ecosystem around annotations and believes that academia is the best place to start, as it's a field where annotating, organizing, and collaborating on documents is incredibly important.
In December, 2015, according to the W3C full text announcement, an informal annotation commission was formed with several publishers such as Wiley and MIT Press. Their first focus was to improve scholarly research and, ultimately, social collaboration across the Internet.
On the importance of annotations, these publications stated:
Today, comments on the Web are disjointed and often disruptive; a unified mechanism for creating, publishing, displaying, and sharing annotations and other comments in a decentralized way can aid in distributed curation, improving the quality of comments that a reader sees for Web content, and improving the reading experience. In parallel, Web users want to organize and remember useful sites on the Web, and want to synchronize their favorite sites across multiple devices, or to share their thoughts about a site with friends or colleagues; Web annotations enable all this by allowing users to make highlights or detailed notes about a site, to add tags for categorization and search, and to share these links and notes across multiple conforming social media services. This is ideal for casual users, or for focused reading circles or classrooms.
Implementing annotations across the world wide web has created a need to understand exactly what an annotation is.
Definition of Annotation
Simply put, an annotation is a comment or a note of explanation added to a text or a diagram.
According to the Java Language Specification JLS, Section 9.7:
an annotation is a marker that associates information with a program construct but has no effect at run time.
Note that the last very important phrase, "has no effect at run time" should never be overlooked or ignored. This concept is of utmost importance to remember when developing or using tools for annotation.
Since the world wide web is largely visual-based, it is important to have some method in which users can benefit from the vast amount of information, especially if they have a disability such as vision impairment. This process is akin to the introduction of Braille in 1829 which allowed the visually impaired to read the text on a printed page.
Web accessibility and making the web a more accessible friendly place enables everyone to achieve equal access to online content and services, regardless of whether users are disadvantaged or handicapped. Making a site accessible to every user also improves the site's UX, User Experience.
In the original announcement from W3C, there were also two initiatives to help make the Web more accessible to those with disabilities:
The first was introducing the publication of the Media Accessibility User Requirements (MAUR) document for media consumption, such as video and audio.
The second was the publication of the WAI-ARIA Graphics Module, which will allow developers and publishers to add a description of graphical documents and images for the disabled to interact with.
The document has actually been in development since 2009 and was already responsible for ensuring HTML5 allowed captioning in video content.
According to the W3C:
The MAUR will be useful for user agent developers and media content developers alike as they exploit the power of HTML 5. It will aid broadcasters as they publish their content on their web sites, and it will aid governmental entities seeking to meet their legislated mandates to make governmental web content accessible.
Developing a more accessible way to use the web for those with a disability allows content creators to:
- Warn browsers and assistive technologies that an image may contain information not included in plain text content
- Describe a section of an image as a meaningful object
- Identify and alert others to symbols within images
This places more and more importance on the text associated with an image and how it's used to help disabled Web users. A list of the full capabilities and roadmap of the module include WAI-ARIA, Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications.
In more recent months, we have developed even more tools to make the internet more accessible for those with disabilities. We now have the ability to develop websites to work in conjunction with specific tools that can be understood easily including accessible web building tips, including:
- Screen readers
- Refreshable Braille displays
- Screen magnifiers
Web accessibility, also more recently referred to as A11Y, is all about providing people with disabilities the same level of access to resources and information that are provided to those without disabilities. A11Y is the set of tools and practices for designing web content to be accessible to people of all abilities.
As technology advances and information shifts to being available mostly online, web annotations in academia and making the World Wide Web accessible to those with disabilities are very important. Even more important is that standards are followed when using these tools for annotating text and making the web accessible to all regardless of disabilities which would otherwise stand in the way of being able to use the web to its full potential.
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