Wednesday, September 19, 2007

1. Introduction

The World Wide Web is the only uncensored medium where it is almost impossible to impose monitoring or regulations. The Web is only attractive if we can see, hear, read, watch, scan pages quickly and navigate with ease. If we lose these abilities the Web will loose all or part of its attractiveness. Despite the efforts of the government, and organisations and charities such as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), Web Access Centre (RNIB), Watchfire and many more the large part of the web remains inaccessible.

After the collapse of dot-com in 2001 some of the large companies and corporations came together to find out what to do to survive. The concept of web 2.0 was born as a result and the first Web.2.0 Conference took place in 2004.

Chapter one of this report lays out the aims and objectives of the project. Chapter 3 and chapter 4 briefly explain the areas to be investigated. Chapter 4 will name some of the related research which has been done by others. Chapter 5 will explain the likely evaluation strategies to be considered. Chapter 6 will list some of the main background material which would be used as primary source. Chapter 7 and 8 will contain bibliography and resources used for this report respectively.

Chapter two of this report will introduce you with disability, accessibility what is it and why it matters, the law and the businesses. Chapter 3 explains the concept of Web 2.0. Chapter 4 will deal with Web 2.0 and accessibility.. Chapter 5 will explain the the methods of designing Web 2.0 accessible pages by following the WAI's WCAG guidelines. Chapter 6 will list some of the main background material which have been used as primary source for this report and chapter 7 will contain resources used for this report respectively.

1. 2. Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of this research project are to investigate and analyze the concept of Web 2.0 and its possibility of improving accessibility. How disabled people access the web and what web designers and developers of web technologies can do to make the Web more accessible. After the initial research, Web 2.0 standard pages will be designed with the aim to test accessibility towards a wide range of users.

2. Disability, Accessibility, the Law and the Businesses

There are millions of mental or physical disabled people live in the world. In most circumstances it is challenge for these people to curry out their day to day essential tasks. Disabled Web users are more likely to find a simple task such as searching information or purchasing an item much more difficult than users without disabilities.

Apart from moral responsibility, it is a legal requirement for businesses and individuals to provide equal services to disabled customers. Businesses should also remember that disabled users are the ones who need Internet the most as they can shop at home without having to go to the store and browse the shelves with the help of another person.

2.1. What is disability?

A disability is impairment or the inability to carry out normal social roles because of the lack of one or more abilities. The Disability Right Commission defines disability as people who have a long-term health condition that has an impact on their day to day lives. According to the same source one in five people of working age are considered by government and DRC to be disabled. (DCR: 2002)

According to Adobe (2006) a 1997 report by the U.S. Census Bureau categorizes 19.6 percent of the United States population as having some sort of disability. Within that group are individuals with visual impairments, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, and motor impairments. Each category includes a much wider range of conditions. For example, visual impairments include limited vision, color blindness, and blindness. Disability categories can also include temporary disabilities; for example, someone with a broken wrist may have difficulty using a mouse but still needs access to the web to meet day-to-day job requirements.

At the same time, statistics about individuals with disabilities may be misleading. As people get older, most face a disability of some kind. While nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population have a disability, as the population ages, the proportion of people with disabilities grows higher.

According to European Commission (2003) there were over 37 million people with disabilities in the European Union in 2003. The following list of disabilities and their relation to accessibility issues on the Web has been prepared by W3C. Disability in this report means people who are affected by one or more of the following impairments.

  • visual disabilities
    • blindness
    • low vision
    • colour blindness
  • hearing impairments
    • deafness
    • hard of hearing
  • physical disabilities
    • motor disabilities
  • speech disabilities
    • speech disabilities
  • cognitive and neurological disabilities
    • dyslexia and dyscalculia
    • attention deficit disorder
    • intellectual disabilities

    • memory impairments
    • mental health disabilities
    • seizure disorders
  • multiple disabilities
  • aging-related conditions

2.2. How Disabled People Access the Web?

Users with disabilities rely on hardware and software to access the Web. These tools are called assistive technologies, which range from screen readers to touch screens and head pointers. Blind users of the web frequently use software called a screen reader to read the contents of a web page out loud. Two common screen readers are JAWS from Freedom Scientific and Window-Eyes from GW Micro. Screen readers enable users to hear, rather than read, the contents of a web page; however, a screen reader can read only text, not images or animations. Users with mobility issues may rely on the keyboard instead of the mouse to navigate web pages. For individuals with nerve damage, arthritis, or repetitive motion injuries, use of the mouse may not be comfortable or possible. Using only Tab and Enter on the keyboard, it is possible for these individuals to negotiate a page with ease. Many users of the Internet have the capability to navigate without a mouse and are simply unaware of it. In some cases, users may employ touch screens, head pointers, or other assistive devices. A touch screen allows an individual to navigate the page using her or his hands without the fine-motor control required by the mouse. A head pointer is simply a stick placed in a person's mouth or mounted on a head strap that the person uses to interact with a keyboard or a touch screen.

In these cases, it is very important that essential components of the page work without a mouse. Rollovers, drop-down lists, and interactive simulations are all examples of elements that typically depend on the mouse for user interaction. The designer or developer of these elements must ensure that keyboard-defined events are included along with mouse-defined events. (Adobe: 2006)

People with mobility disabilities have physical impairments that substantially limit movement and fine motor controls, such as lifting, walking, and typing. Mobility impaired individuals experience difficulties in using the computer's input devices and in handling storage media. (IBM: 2006)

2.3. What is Accessibility?

According to Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) (2005) Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, and physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.

Accessibility is about ensuring disabled people can access the Web content. Accessibility addresses two issues. First how users with disabilities access electronic information, and second, how web content designers and developers enable web pages to function with assistive devices used by individuals with disabilities. For the user with a disability, the challenge is to identify tools that provide the most convenient access to web-based and other electronic information. For the web content designer/developer, the challenge is to remove the obstacles that prevent accessibility tools from functioning effectively. In many cases, these challenges are relatively simple to overcome, but sometimes the solutions require some additional thought and effort. (Adobe: 2006)

Accessibility is not entirely for disabled people. It will also address issues concerning PDA users, web-enabled mobile phones users, people with temporary disabilities, people with minor vision problem and site owners who want to benefit from search engines.

The need to make the Web accessible arises from the fact that it has to accommodate and respond to the traffic from mobile phones, computers, pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and different screen sizes. There are blind people, young people, technology-savvy people, disabled people, and foreign people. There are different browsers and different platforms out there. Each browser displays a web page in different way. Newer browsers for example may support advanced presentation and interaction features, but they are not yet used by everyone surfing the Web.

The Web has to be built in a way that it needs to be accessible to many different types of visitors with different browsers with deferent degree of understanding the technology.

2.4. Accessibility Guidelines and Standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C: 2006) published Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0 as a working draft in April 27, 2006. WCAG 2.0 is the improved version of WCAG 1.0 which was introduced and recommended in 1999. WCAG 2.0 is a comprehensive accessibility strategy. Other WAI recommendations address the authoring tools used to create Web content and the user agents that display that material. By replacing HTML 3.2 in December 1997, to HTML 4.0 WAI introduced many important changes designed specifically to enhance accessibility for people with disabilities. With the publication of WCAG 1.0 in 1999, the WAI had completed a series of accessibility guidelines for the Web that represented a broad, international consensus among industry representatives, academic researchers, and members of the disability community. Following is the summery of the WCAG 2.0. The full document is available at:

Guideline One:

  • Provide text alternatives for all non-text content
  • Provide synchronized alternatives for multimedia
  • Ensure that information and structure can be separated from presentation
  • Make it easy to distinguish foreground information from its background

Guideline Two:

  • Make all functionality operable via a keyboard interface.
  • Allow users to control time limits on their reading or interaction.
  • Allow users to avoid content that could cause seizures due to photosensitivity.
  • Provide mechanisms to help users find content, orient themselves within it, and navigate through it.
  • Help users avoid mistakes and make it easy to correct mistakes that do occur.

Guideline Three:

  • Make text content readable and understandable.
  • Make the placement and functionality of content predictable.

Guideline Four:

  • Support compatibility with current and future user agents (including assistive technologies)
  • Ensure that content is accessible or provide an accessible alternative

2.5. Accessibility and the law

Many governments around the world have passed laws to ensure accessibility for disabled web users. The European Union is moving towards the Unified Web Evaluation Methodology (UWEM) to promote a methodology of evaluation of accessibility common to Europe. In 1999, as part of its eEurope initiative, the European Union European Commission issued a proposal titled "eEurope—An Information Society for All," which proposed that the European Commission and Member States would commit themselves to making the design and content of all public Web sites accessible to people with disabilities. The eEurope Action Plan 2002, adopted by the Feira European Council in June 2000, is a wide-ranging initiative designed to speed up and extend the use of the Internet to all sectors of European society. The action plan includes five targets for promoting "participation for all in the knowledge-based society." One specific target area is the accessibility of Web sites for people with disabilities. The plan emphasizes that "public sector Web sites and their content in Member States and in the European institutions must be designed to be accessible to ensure that citizens with disabilities can access information and take full advantage of the potential for e-government." (eEurope Action Plan :2002)

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in UK makes it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public. From 1st October 1999 a service provider has to take reasonable steps to change a practice which makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of its services. (DDA; 1995) The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to place a duty on all public sector authorities to promote disability equality. The Act makes it unlawful for service providers, landlords and others to discriminate against disabled people in certain

circumstances. The Code of Practice addressing Web accessibility was published on 27th May 2002.

The Rehabilitation Act (1973) in the United States was the first legislation in which, for the first time, Congress declared that it is of critical importance to the nation that the equality of opportunity and equal rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are provided to all individuals, including those with disabilities. This was a commitment to the essential fact that the complete integration of all individuals with disabilities into normal community living, working, and service patterns was to be held as a final objective, and in making that commitment the federal government established principles of access that have been adopted by society as a whole.

The Rehabilitation Act has been amended several times over the years to address the experiences of implementation and the enormous changes in society and technology. The 1998 amendments to Section 508 mandate that information technology, like other public facilities, must be made accessible to everyone, regardless of disability. The first amendments of 1986 were legally non binding whilst the second amendment, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) has become law since the 7th of August 1998 with the approval from President Clinton.

2.6. Accessibility and Businesses

Some Web developers and their clients may think that there is no need to worry about a small number of blind people who will not be able to use their products such as HD TVs. And why should they bother about them. Nevertheless it is possible that blind people might buy those TVs for friends and family members if the site is accessible to them. Besides, the majority of visually impaired web users are not completely blind.

By having an accessible website businesses increase their website's ability to reach wide range of people, thus helping to increase market share. There are 37 million people with disabilities in Europe. In some countries disability numbers reaches as high as 8 to 10 percent.

If businesses wish to keep their loyal customers and their families and relatives, they should remember that as population ages, more of the existing customers and potential new customers will be people with disabilities or their families and their friends.

3. What is Web 2.0?

The concept of Web 2.0 According to O’Reilly (2005) “began with a conference brainstorming session between O'Reilly and MediaLive International”. The idea of Web 2.0 appeared after the collapse of dot-com in 2001 to transform the way that we look at the Web as a medium. To put it simply in the words of MacManus (2005) “Web 2.0 is a vision of the Web in which information is broken up into “microcontent” units that can be distributed over dozens of domains. The Web of documents has morphed into a Web of data. We are no longer just looking to the same old sources for information. Now we’re looking to a new set of tools to aggregate and remix microcontent in new and useful ways.” O’Reilly (2005) highlights some of the core principle features of Web 2.0 as follow:

  • The Web as Platform
  • User Generated Content
  • Software above the Level of Single Device
  • Data is the Next Intel Inside
  • Lightweight Programming Models
  • Harnessing Collective Intelligence
  • Rich User Experiences

According to Gehtland (2005) Web 2.0 represents the maturation of Internet standards into a viable application development platform. The combination of stable standards, better understanding and a unifying vision amount to a whole that is greater, by far, than the sum of its parts.

Graham (2005) argues that till recently he thought that term Web 2.0 did not mean anything. At the time it was supposed to mean using "the web as a platform”. It seems that web based applications are the main component of Web 2.0. And the most successful web based application is AJAX which was used to design the Google Maps ( in 2005. It seems that Web2.0 has acquired a meaning now.

So is that it? Does Web 2.0 mean Ajax? Not really. Take Wikipedia ( for example. This is one of the examples to show that amateurs can overtake professionals as long as they have the right kind of tools in their disposal. The main factor of Wikipedia success is that it is free. So people will use it. If you need professional opinions on the Web you have to pay for it. Web 2.0 means using the web as it was meant to be used, and Wikipedia does it, Google does it, Itune does it, Amazon does it and Microsoft is struggling not to lift behind.

Probably the most up to date use of Web 2.0 is Windows Live at: ( Microsoft Virtual Earth is a detailed 3D imagery. US users with Vista-ready Windows computers and IE 6 or 7 will be able to navigate through an aerial view of cities with enough detail to discern the texture of buildings and read clickable billboards from the likes of Fox, Nissan and John L. Scott Real Estate. Virtual Earth 3D is expected to expand to cover up to 100 cities around the world by the end of next summer. Unlike Google Earth, Microsoft’s Virtual Earth is experienced directly inside of IE as part of search results. The imagery was taken from planes and processed with proprietary algorithms. See Kirkpatrick (2006)

Web 2.0 means trying to understand what is happening. Measuring the nerve of the market and finding out what technologies are under development and trying to find out how to use those technologies effectively to make profit. It is not all. Web 2.0 means to have your eyes open for the future. What will happen and be there when it does and use the opportunity to turn the tide in your way. As stated by Graham (2005) “that's the way to approach technology-- and as business includes an ever larger technological component, the right way to do business.” On the other hand Web 2.0 is another way of using the Internet to smooth the progress of the engagement of consumers efficiently and outlet those to generate cheaper and faster profit.

There is no hard boundary for Web 2.0, but rather, a gravitational core (O'Reilly 2005). Web 2.0 could be visualized as a set of principles and practices that tie together sites that display some or all of those principles. The subsequent sub headings will discuss these principles in detail.

3.1. The Web as Platform

The Internet is currently undergoing a surgery. The standard web browser technologies used to display documents and contents have been pushed beyond their limits by the increasingly sophisticated web based services. Many enhanced, smarter and more affluent Internet technologies are being introduced or they are under development to take over the old and incompetent web browsers’ place. Most of these technologies would be able to deliver this affluence by using only modern local machines.

The ultimate goal of the Internet is that all computers in the world connect to each other in order to create a giant network resource. One of the main goals of the Web 2.0 is to turn this giant web to a platform where local and remote computing becomes interchangeable and the computer users are not aware whether they working on local or remote machine.

To accomplish this grand goal the business web site owners have to let the control go, release the information how to use their data, share their code and publish their APIs. As LaMonicka (2005) argues this process will give the outside individuals the tools needed to pull data from websites and to combine it with another information source to create something new. This in effect means giving a great deal of power in the hands of outside individuals and to transform websites into programmable machines. Some businesses such as Amazon, Google and Ebay already doing so by hiring outside developers and programmers and it seems that the run through not only is working but is also profitable.

One other point to chew over with all of the above is that everything we do in Windows, Mac and other applications could be done through a web browser with Ebay, Amazon, Skype or Google Mail. The Web is not that mature yet but this is the vision and the goal and this will happen for sure. As the Web move towards this goal there will be a need to engage more and more of the users to the process. This will create an exhilarating opportunity for everyone to help the Web evolve to a ground-breaking and a non scrutinized platform to implement and play rich application technologies. The more people participate in this process the better it becomes and the more people use these applications the better they will get.

3.2. User Generated Content

User Generated Content (UGC) is a term that has been introduced during 2005. The term refers to the content which is generated by the users of website rather than by companies or traditional methods. It started with the realization that the information is no longer the monopoly of big companies. The development of plenty of smart and accessible Web technologies such as blogging, video blogging, podcasting, Wikkies and many more speeded up this process. MySpace ( ) YouTube ( ), Wikipedia ( ) and FourDocs ( ) are some of the examples of popular websites based on User Generated Content. As a result of democratisation of the Web most of the users and authors of these websites are ordinary people who have a chance to publish their work in famous places. The trend is changing the balance of power. Most of the activities are happening outside of the sphere of media producer companies. People are discovering new ways of creating all forms of media, they share those file on the Internet and spend more time online rather than sitting idly on the sofa watching some boring TV programmes.

Declining TV viewing probably hinted BBC for example to set up a User Generated Content Hub for ordinary citizens. The BBC (2006) claims thatThe massive explosion of the oil depot near Hemel Hempstead at six o'clock on Sunday morning underlined the obvious, if painful, fact that news stories don't always break between 9-5, Monday to Friday. That story resulted in around 15,000 images being sent to the BBC, the first arriving at 0616, just 13 minutes after the initial explosion. We also received 20,000 emails from people who had seen or heard the explosion, from Folkestone to Nottingham”.

Not everyone is happy with the trend. Some argue (Chin: 2006) that despite the benefits of UGC such as breaking the boundaries and restrictions and discovering more areas of knowledge there is a down side to it. UGC might cause content overlap, questionable source of the provider and lack of moderation may end up in a mash up and chaos Web.

In an essay on his weblog User-generated content vs. reader-created context” Udell (2006) writes that everything about this buzzphrase annoys him. He points out that calling people the users dehumanizes and it should be stricken from the IT vocabulary. In his opinion the word “content” reminds more of sausage than storytelling. He also adds that writers and editors do not “generate”, they tell stories that inform, educate and entertain. At the end he proposes an alternative for this annoying phrase: “reader-created context”.

User Generated Content websites are the fastest growing brands on the Internet. Zeller (2005) in an article in The New York Times wrote that "according to the Pew survey, 57 percent of all teenagers between 12 and 17 who are active online - about 12 million - create digital content, from building Web pages to sharing original artwork, photos and stories to remixing content found elsewhere on the Web. Some 20 percent publish their own Web logs." The article continues: “Most teenagers online take their role as content creators as a given. Twenty-two percent report keeping their own personal Web page, and about one in five say they remix content they find online into their own artistic creations, whether as composite photos, edited video productions or, most commonly, remixed song files.”

A press release by Yahoo Finance (2006) published on August 10 wrote that Neilson/NetRatings “a global leader in Internet media and market research, announced today that user-generated content sites, platforms for photo sharing, video sharing and blogging, comprised five out of the top 10 fastest growing Web brands in July 2006”. The press release continues: “Among the top 10 Web brands overall, MySpace was the No. 1 fastest growing, increasing 183 percent, from 16.2 million unique visitors in July 2005 to 46.0 million in July 2006. Google ranked No. 2, growing 23 percent, from a unique audience of 76.2 million to 94.0 million. Ebay rounded out the top three, increasing 13 percent, from 51.1 million to 57.8 million unique visitors”.

Table 3.1. Top 10 Brands on the Web, re-ranked by Year-Over-Year Growth, July 2006 (U.S.)


Jul'05 UA (000)

Jul'06 UA (000)

% Growth





















MSN/Windows Live








Real Network












Source: Nielsen//NetRatings, August 2006 (

Whether the experts agree or disagree or we like it or not the UGC is here and it is growing fast. It changes the Internet and the perception of it. Millions are involved in this trend. They participate on UGC websites on not to get famous or rich, but because they want to express their ideas and points of view. This is a democracy in practice. The vision of a world full of freelance writers, film makers, journalists and software developers are not a dream anymore it is around the corner albeit the experts are threatened or annoyed.

3.3. Software above the Level of Single Device

This is another feature of Web 2.0. This means that the Web will be no longer limited to a single platform such as PC. Applications that are limited to a single device are less desirable than those that cover more than one device. There are many consumer devices such as PDA’s, mobile phones, cameras, mobile Digital TV players, game devices which are increasingly getting connected together and it transforms the way we access Internet and get our information. As O’Reilly (2005) notes, “one of the defining characteristics of internet era software is that it is delivered as a service, not as a product”. This actuality forces the big software developers to change essentially. They have to update and add to their applications constantly in order to accommodate other devices as they are developed.

Consumers are getting wireless increasingly. This leads to less reliability on a single device. Now you can access the internet on the go. It is very hard to envisage what happens in next five or ten year time. But one thing is clear that engaging the users as testers and finding out how they use the new features is one of the reasonable approaches to software development.

The best example of Software above the Level of a Single device is perhaps iTunes. This exemplary application flawlessly connects a PC or Mac, a handheld device the iPod and dynamic server. This is a practical example of an application that it not only works on a PC, but it also works on a mobile device. The present speed of open source technologies development suggests that it is not long before the Web is accessible across any consumer device. The only fixation these devices may have in common will be a universal browser.

3.4. Data is the Next Intel Inside

O’Reilly believes that data in the next generation of the Web is as important as a CPU in a PC. Every major Internet based business employs a database system such as I tune’s database of songs, Ebay’s database of products and users, and Paypal’s database of members. Database administration is a central part and one of capability of Web 2.0.

If a company wants to improve their network application in an inexpensive way, they should let the users enhance the data with their own. This in effect means to invite the user to get involve beyond the simple design and test process. This means sharing of data. Some companies such as Amazon do it the other way around. They capture the data from users and add it to their own.

Web 2.0 services and data. Web 2.0 services unavoidably have a bulk of data which is merged with software. EBay for example sells the products and the seller’s data. This is very different from packaged software such as Adobe Photoshop where only software is sold not data.

3.5. Lightweight Programming Models

Opposed to common understanding the success of the Web is owed to simplified and lightweight programming models. Lightweight Programming Models is all about removing the redundant complexities and constraints coupled with the traditional heavyweight corporate Programming Models. Lightweight programming also reduces the development process, debugging and testing time.

Involving users in developing, and enhancing process of lightweight programming is much practical as opposed to heavyweight corporate programming. Lightweight, programming model could also be useful to exploit the operating system and browsers fully. The heavyweight corporate sponsored programming models are designed for a small number of people. On the other hand, lightweight programming models are designed to reach as many people as possible.

Open Gardens (2005) argue that simpler technologies like RSS and AJAX are the dynamic force behind web 2.0 services as opposed to the full fledged web services stack using mechanisms like SOAP. These technologies are designed to associate rather than coordinate. They are thus opposite to the traditional corporate attitude of controlling access to data. They are also designed for reprocess. Reprocess in the logic of reusing the service and not the data.

Tate (2005) summarizes the core principle and philosophy of Lightweight Programming Models as: It incorporates process, technology, and philosophy. It is about simpler technologies. It is built on solid, lightweight foundation. It strives for the best possible transparency. It uses ideas that give the users and developer influence, reliance, booster and AOP.

3.6. Harnessing Collective Intelligence

O’Reilly (2006) in his latest article on Harnessing Collective Intelligence dismisses the notion that User Generated Content and Harnessing Collective Intelligence are the same concept. He adds that Wikipedia for instance exhibits super intelligent performance when it is more wide-ranging and more current than encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica has the brand name, but Wikipedia has the intelligence on board. And with very smallest software, Wikipedia brings together millions of minds to craft a new and superior kind of encyclopaedia. That's not just user-generated content. It's a cognitive community exhibiting super intellectual performance.

You Tube ( which was rated the best invention of 2006 by Time, is another example of Harnessing Collective Intelligence. You Tube, according to Time (2006) started with a video of a trip to the zoo in April last year now airs 100 million videos and another 70000 videos are added to its database by users every day. You Tube is a portal for millions of people around the globe that want to become celebrities over night. This in itself is an Internet era revolution which was unpredicted a year ago.

3.7. Rich User Experiences

As Internet matures the demand for richer and interactive experience on the Web is grows with it. It is not long before you say goodbye to convention way of Web browsing.

New and rich applications are developed to make this happen. If you use Google Maps for instance, the way you can pull selected parts of the map into your view suggests the notion that you have all of the maps stored locally on your computer, for your easy handling. Imagine how out of favor this application would be if every time you tried to pull the map the page disappeared for a while waited for browser to refresh. The application would be so slow that no one would use it. See (Perry, 2006)

Figure 3.2. Google Maps. You can drag or zoom into a part of the map without waiting for browser to refresh.

Richer experience does not end with Google Maps. Yahoo also has changed its search form fields. Now you can switch search categories by hitting the tab key, just the same way as windows applications, without reloading anything.

What make this magic happen? What technologies are involved and who develop them? One of the burning words of today’s pundits is Ajax. So what is Ajax?

Ajax stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. Ajax is not a technology in itself, but it brings together some deep-rooted web technologies and uses them in new and appealing ways. See (McLaughlin, 2006)

Whenever we use a desktop application, we anticipate the outcome of our work to be made accessible straight away, and without us having to wait for the whole monitor to be reloaded by the program. While using Microsoft PowerPoint, for example, if we change the text size, font type, appearance of the slides, and type of animation we anticipate seeing the result of those changes straight away. This type of interactivity has hardly ever been obtainable to users of web-based applications before Ajax was introduced. Ajax introduces a way out to this dilemma. By working as an extra coating between the user's browser and the web server, Ajax handles server exchanges in the background, submitting server requests and giving out the returned data. The results may then be incorporated flawlessly into the page being viewed with no need for the whole page to be reloaded. (Ballard, 2006)

4. Web 2.0 and Accessibility

Many geeks and pundits are increasingly worried about the pace and scale of “Ajaxification” of everything on the Web. Lawson (2006) claims that “people are so busy adding extra Ajax loveliness that the separate stripped-down html-only versions they offer are unthinkingly accepted as a legitimate sop to people with disabilities.” He adds that there is nothing wrong with Google’s maps, gmail etc, and have never thought that accessibility means bringing everything down to the lowest level of quality or taste. Truly creative and considerate coding will ensure polished “rich user experience”. But in the rush to “Ajaxify” the bulk of developers are not appropriately thinking of accessibility consequences.

Another pundit Keith (2006) suggests that Ajax should be used in the same way that any other kind of DOM scripting is used: as an improvement to, rather than an obligation of, the user experience. He adds “I would like to see the idea of Hijaxing (making sure an application works without JavaScript) applied to pages elements like feedback forms and shopping carts.”

Godding (2006) is not happy with the “thoughtless implementation of technologies, in this case AJAX”. He adds that creative, novel and wide-ranging coding would guarantee that those users who don’t have JavaScript capability are not deprived of information or the capability to take part in this new society with improved user experience. He warns of overlooking of “social conscience in the mad rush to produce something that is Web 2.0 and cool!”

4.1. Ajax and Web Accessibility

In order for Ajax applications to work on web browsers JavaScript and XMLHttpRequest object have to be enabled. Although most popular web browsers are capable of handling JavaScript, it is turned off by default. Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer for example, warn the user of prohibited content. There are some other problems regarding accessibility. Consider Google Maps ( for instance, it failed the accessibility when it was tested using Watchfire WebXact Validator ( on the following:

  • No title for frame element to describe the purpose and content of the frame.
  • No extended description for the main map which conveys important information.
  • While colour is used to convey information, the information is not represented another way.
  • While table is used to hold data there was no header for the table rows or columns.
  • If Style Sheet is turned off on a browser, or the page is viewed on browser that does not support Style Sheet the content should be displayed in logical order.
  • If JavaScript is turned off or the page is viewed by browsing devices that not support JavaScript there is nothing useful left on the page. The main function of Google Maps is to find an address or a building on the map. It is not possible to make the page usable with scripts not running or turned off.
  • Programmatic objects, such as applets, plug-ins and scripts may cause the screen to flicker. Screen flickering or flashing in the 4 to 59 flashes per second (Hertz) range can trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. Quick changes from dark to light, like strobe lights, can also trigger seizures. See (WebXACT, 2006)
  • As there is no keyboard equivalent to double-clicking ("ondblclick") or mouse movement ("onmousemove") in HTML 4.0 there is no alternative to mouse coordinates.
  • Missing labels for form controls.
  • Lack of sufficient contrast of foreground and background colours. This may not provide sufficient contrast when viewed using monochrome displays or by people who have difficulty seeing certain colours.

The same page was tested using Hermish ( While it passed priority one with 2 cautions it failed on the following:

  • Hermish detected the use of H tags. If your H tags are being used only for decoration then please use an alterative method of text display. Use H tags only to specification not for page decoration. H1 should be followed by H2, followed by H3 etc.
  • Hermish detected the use of DL tags. Be sure to check the correct markup when using lists.
  • Auto re-fresh detected. Please do not use the automatic refresh or re-direction of web pages.
  • When storing data in table columns you should consider providing an alternative, non-column linear format.
  • Are you using HTML mark up within table cells? If so please find an alternative method.
  • Have you checked that association between form elements and labels are positioned correctly?
  • Specify the prime language of the document. Use the Lang element.
  • Are you using a built-in search facility? If you have then provide more than one method.
  • 9 of your text boxes (form elements) do not display default values. When using text boxes and other form element provide a default entry.

Another accessibility validator Miislita ( failed Google map on priority one, two and three.

After Google Maps was validated and failed all three tests, the fundamental question remains for Google developers to answer, if disabled people could actually use Google Maps the same way as normal people. Zeldman (2006) argues that the history of Internet has been to solve today's problems at tomorrow's expenditure. He adds that design today and solve the problem tomorrow is not productive or necessary any more. Google Maps is great and fantastic to use as long as you are not disabled and own a state of the art PC. We also know that Google Maps is still under development and in beta version. Perhaps, this is a good practice for Google to address the accessibility issue now than leave it for later.

Amazon’s diamonds search is an amazing application that offers incredible usability for many web users. ( Once this page was validated using an online validator Wave (, the result was 194 accessibility errors and 24 accessibility alerts. The application is entirely unfeasible for screen reader and keyboard-only users to use, and it is very complicated for any screen magnifier user to use.

4.2. User Generated Content and Accessibility

User Generated Content is normally generated by using JavaScript, DHTML or CSS. Many assistive technologies for the blinds, partially sighted and those who have problem using mouse will not understand and hold these objects. Content generated by client side technologies and web browsers will not be accessible to the users of these assistive technologies.

A. YouTube

YouTube ( contains 100 million videos. Another 70000 videos are added to its database everyday by its users. YouTube’s terms and condition does not even mention the word accessibility once. 25 videos were observed for this research none provides subtitle for video content or transcript of its video contents. No alternative text version of its audio content is provided either.

B. Blogger

Although there are no specific rules or regulation, a blog could be anything from a personal memoir to a hub of links or a news outlet. Your blog is what exactly you want it to be. There are millions of blogs all over the Web. Blogger ( for instance is portal where you can create you own blog choosing one of the predefined templates. In other word you have the choice over the contents of your blog but there is limited choice you have over the style or appearance of those contents. Blogger is entirely dependent on user generated content and there are 100 of thousands of subscribers.

Blogger allocate its members to become its content providers. Most of these users have no idea about web accessibility or they do not care about it. This will cause the majority of disabled people to be deprived of the contents of Blogger. Another issue with Blogger is that creating a user accounts for a blind person is impossible as it include entering characters seen on the picture.

C. Flickr

Flickr ( is an online photo management and sharing application where people can store, search, sort and share photos. Flickr houses millions of photos and thousands more are added to its collections every day. It relies solely on users for its contents. None of Flickr’s video is subtitled, nor extended description used to explain pictures for blinds. There is no alternative transcript of its audio contents available for deaf people. On top of that signing up requires entering characters seen on the picture.

D. MySpace

MySpace ( is another popular portal for people to meet, chat, share photos, blog, and a lot more. Thousands of people are subscribed to its services and they generate content for its pages. Opposite to Blogger MySpace lets its users to style customize their pages as they like. Since most of MySpace members are unskilled web designers this can source accessibility issues. Heavy and unorganized usage of Style Sheet could also cause the unexpected behavior of browsers.

At the moment there is no universal policy to make User Generated Content Accessible on these sites. There are millions of people adding contents on these sites on daily bases. It is utterly impossible for websites such as Blogger, Flicker, YouTube and MySpace to police, control or supervise the accessibility of the content of their sites as they are created by users and there are hundreds of thousands of them.

4.3. What the Future Hold?

One of the main objectives of Web 2.0 is to turn the Web in to a platform. Web 2.0 associated websites are developing more and more interactive and rich applications similar to desktop software. These rich Web applications use AJAX, DHTML, XML JavaScript, and other combinations of existing technologies. Heavy use of these Web technologies increases the risk of leaving disabled people behind.

That is why W3C reacted and introduced the working draft of Web Content Accessibility Guideline 2 (WCAG 2.0) in June 2006. The deference between WCAG 1 and 2 as stated by W3C (2006) “applies more broadly to different Web technologies and is designed to apply as technologies develop in the future. The WCAG 2.0 requirements are more testable. In WCAG 1.0, brief descriptions are included in the main WCAG 1.0 document under each guideline. With WCAG 2.0, extensive guidance is provided for each guideline and success criteria in Understanding WCAG 2.0. The WCAG 2.0 techniques are also more comprehensive and include tests.” W3C in another move on 26 September 2006 introduced Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA).

Moss (2006) predicts that there are three major factors that will outline web accessibility in the future: AJAX, User Generated Content and WCAG 2.0.

  • “Accessibility will become less and less guideline-driven.” With the arrival of new technologies such as AJAX, and the unclear nature of the new W3C guidelines (WCAG 2.0), accessibility is becoming less and less guideline driven. So accessibility experts will have to explain these guidelines to developers and designers.
  • “Alternative accessible versions will become the norm”. Although for business and ethical reasons a detached text only version of websites has never been loved. At the same time assistive technologies are not capable of understanding rich Internet applications a separate text only version has to be provided.
  • “User-generated content is likely to offer poor accessibility.”
    User Generated Content is here and it increases on daily bases. Taking into account its speed and its size it is utterly impossible to monitor it for accessibility issues.

Web 2.0 presents fantastic opportunities to experience rich and usable internet applications. For the first time in human history anyone can become a journalist, a movie maker, a contributor to important and crucial issues of the world or a celebrity over night. More and more of people are getting connected to each other in order to express themselves and present their points of view. But at the same time it poses a challenge to the world to find ways to include millions of disabled people to experience/participate and enjoy this information technology’s revolution.