HTML 5: an access introduction


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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