HTML 5: an access introduction

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Welcome to the first posting of the W3C column.  One of the most significant developments in the W3C that has access implications is the creation of HTML 5, so here’s a brief introduction into some of the potential benefits and issues.

HTML 5 is an evolution of HyperText Markup Language (HTML) standard and is designed to provide structure to content. Unlike previous versions of HTML, HTML 5 includes new features such as: better integration of video, the ability to drag-and-drop graphical elements, edit pages and interpret location information such as GPS tracking. 

The standard is still under development by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and a draft specification of HTML 5 has been released.

What are the access implications?

HTML 5 offers a number of potential solutions to accessibility issues, including:

  • Standardised video - HTML 5 has the potential to deliver video that does not need a plug-in like Flash, Real or Windows Media. This can help maintain consistency when creating and implementing captions and audio description.
  • Accessibility of cloud applications - HTML 5 should make it easier to apply WCAG 2.0 criteria to cloud applications and make them more accessible by standardising the way web-based applications work.
  • Integration of WAI-ARIA - WAI-ARIA gives specific instructions to assistive technology products that are used by people with disabilities, enabling these products to better work with web applications. WAI-ARIA is not a specific HTML 5 feature, but it should be used together with HTML 5.

What are the implementation issues?

Given that HTML 5 is still in draft, there are some issues that need to be addressed before the benefits to accessibility can be realised.  Issues include:

  • Browser wars - Currently, there is inconsistency in the aspects of HTML 5 that are supported by the major web browsers. Consequently, it is problematic to create content in HTML 5 as not all browsers will support it at this time.
  • Video formats - HTML 5 allows streaming video and other multimedia elements to be used without the need for a plug-in application. Companies that provide video authoring tools like Adobe, Apple and Microsoft are unlikely to sacrifice their formats in favour of HTML 5, despite it being better for accessibility.
  • Waiting for the standard - It’s possible that the standard may be several years away from being finalised and approved. The benefits of HTML5 may, therefore, be a long way off.

More details to come

In future updates, each of these points will be explored in more detail, along with other W3C-related news and information.

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