The mobile web and access potential

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It’s an amazing thing to watch how new platforms and devices move from ‘niche developer tool’ to ‘fad’, then ‘trend’ and finally ‘commonplace’. In recent years devices such as netbooks and the iPad, along with platforms such as Google Android, have certainly followed this path. Android in particular seems to have gone from a hobby OS to a dominant mobile platform in about a year. 

For people with disabilities, the pace of mobile evolution raises an important question. With a wealth of accessibility solutions available to computers with fully-fledged operating systems, will the mobile web provide the same level of support?

Apple iOS-based devices such as the iPhone and the iPad contain accessibility tools such as the VoiceOver screen reader, zoom, reversible text and captioned video playback. Google Android, while more challenging to set up, now supports a number of accessibility tools.

In some respects, however, the mobile web is not as accessible as its desktop equivalents. For example, using Flash on an iPhone requires the development of a specific application. This means that many caption videos are unplayable without that application.

VoiceOver and Zoom can’t be run together on an iPad unlike a Mac OS-based computer, and Android’s accessibility is limited largely to a customised web browser that supports speech.  

Although there is still some way to go, there are a number of resources which can help developers to work through the issues. The web is rapidly becoming more mobile-friendly, and the W3C has a number of resources to assist in keeping up with the reliance of a mobile device becoming our primary connection to online material.

Firstly, the W3C has established a Mobile Web for Social Development internet group (MW4D)which explores the potential of Web technologies on mobile phones as a solution to bridge the digital divide and provide information and communication technology (ICT) based services to rural communities and underprivileged populations of developing countries.

While not a WAI-specific group, this forum provides an opportunity for discussions on how to make better use of mobile devices, given that in many developing countries the mobile phone is the only personal computing and Internet portal available. 

Secondly, the W3C has a number of public resources available which can assist developers who are looking to develop for the mobile web. This includes a number of applications related to the Open Web Platform, JavaScript APIs, widgets and resources on best practice for developers and how web and mobile devices can help bridge the digital divide. So if you’re considering creating a new online app for your favourite mobile device, check out some of the W3C resources as they may prove useful.

W3C WAI and HTML 5 updates

In other W3C news, it has been recently announced that WCAG 2.0 is now available in a range of official translations including Danish, Dutch, German and French.The translations are ongoing to make it easier for developers around the world to implement the guidelines without the need for a translation.

The W3C has also announced that the HTML Working Group has committed to reaching Last Call for HTML 5 in May this year and announced plans to reach Recommendation by 2014.

And finally, for those who would like to experience the benefits of WAI-ARIA in action, some good videos demonstrating screen readers are now available on

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