I don’t remember the details, but I stumbled upon the WAI-ARIA? project when it was a hatchling, and almost no one I knew had heard of it. It’s been over 2 years, the bird has left the nest, but it still seems to be flying under many people’s radar. It really should be an important piece in the designer’s repertoire. I’ve written about this at much greater length while I was doing an independent reading in Web Usability and Accessibility as part of my graduate studies. AJAX? messes with a web page’s “DOM”? in ways that are hidden from the user of the page by design. ARIA is meant to talk to assistive technologies and keep track of all such changes, communicating them to the software, or responding to custom designed hardware to do things those of us with so-called normal abilities take for granted. To do this, ARIA defines and then makes use of roles—e.g., this is a toolbar, this is a menu item; states—this panel is folded or invisible, this one is displayed; and properties—this menu has a drop-down, this one a pop-up.
I’m in agreement with those who recognize ARIA belongs in the back-end and frameworks, and when its implementation is (by Internet standards) “complete” designers/developers won’t need to know every detail. Early adopters include Jaws, HTML Boilerplate, jQuery-UI, Drupal and others (citations to follow). But I’m just as certain knowing the way the machine works is very helpful when it breaks down on the highway. A simple intro to ARIA I used with a small group of budding young geeks I was enlisted to entertain one afternoon used that simplest of “widgets” the show-hide button. The code and a description can be seen here. One of the main reasons I’m setting up this new site and blog is so I can be the site admin and set it up to run examples from within my blog posts.
I’ve made my point for now and linked to the code and resources… when you see the word “updated” appear near the top of this post you’ll know I’ve [tried to*] update it to include the working examples. In the meantime feel free to comment… had you heard of ARIA? Used it? Do you think it will work? Why haven’t we heard more about it?
* I do have a plan to get around this barrier so I can display code and working examples, but it’ll take me a few days to get back to it. (And there’s undoubtedly a plugin or widget.)