What is WAI-ARIA?

The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initative (WAI) defines the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (ARIA) as a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. It especially helps with dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with Ajax, HTML, JavaScript, and related technologies.

What is its purpose?

Modern websites include a lot of dynamic content that is contantly updating and refreshing, such as sports scores or stock market data.  As such, assistive technologies used by people with disabilities were often unable to access important website information.  As a result, the W3C created ARIA so that developers can make use of the latest cutting-edge web technologies and make sure that people using assistive technology products are able to access the content.

Examples of WAI-ARIA

A good example of the power of WAI-ARIA is the ability to guide a screen reader to access content on a web page in a particular way. Before WAI-ARIA, this could only be achieved by flagging user-side requests such as ‘skip to content’ links. WAI-ARIA gives more control to developers by specifying specific ‘landmark’ areas of the document including ‘banner’, ‘navigation’, ‘main’, ‘search’ and ‘article’. These labels remove the need for users to guess which section may have the relevant information, significantly speeding up website navigation.

A dynamic example of WAI-ARIA is the use of the ‘aria-live’ element which allows dynamic content to be allocated a value such as ‘polite’ and ‘rude’. This means that a person with a screen reader can be alerted to the update subtly, or have their attention instantly drawn to the content, or somewhere in between depending on how the developer sets the status. 

Further information

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