WASHINGTON — Dec. 10, 2007 — A coalition of leading information and assistive technology companies today announced the formation of the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA), an engineering working group dedicated to enabling developers to more easily create accessible software, hardware and Web products. Those solutions will reduce barriers to information and communication technologies that currently exist for people with disabilities in today’s increasingly digital world.
AIA members will collaborate on specific engineering projects intended to increase interoperability between existing technologies, and will design new technologies or solutions to resolve many of the long-standing challenges associated with developing accessible products. The group’s results are expected to yield improved developer guidelines, tools and technologies; lower development costs; and increase accessibility innovation throughout the industry.
The founding members of the AIA have selected four projects to begin their work:
Consistent keyboard access. Developing a set of keyboard shortcuts to provide consistent behavior to users of assistive technology products in any Web browser
Interoperability of accessibility APIs. Modifying and/or extending existing accessibility models (Microsoft UI Automation, IAccessible2 and others) to improve the interoperability and exchange of information between IT and assistive technology (AT) products
UI Automation extensions. Adding features and capabilities to support additional rich document scenarios, address new Web scenarios and more.
Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (ARIA) mapping through UI Automation. Designing the mapping of rich Web accessibility information through UI Automation to ensure maximum value for AT products and, therefore, for people with disabilities
“Today, developers must work across divergent platforms, application environments and hardware models to create accessible technology for customers with disabilities,” said Rob Sinclair, director of the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. “The AIA is an opportunity for the entire industry to come together to reduce the cost and complexity of accessibility, increase customer satisfaction, foster inclusive innovation, and reinforce a sustainable ecosystem of accessible technology products.”
Improving Accessibility Through Industry Collaboration
Currently, there is no single accessibility development model that information technology developers can use to ensure their applications will work with virtually any assistive technology (AT), or that AT developers can use to make sure their products work with a wide variety of applications. Instead, many accessibility models and technologies are required to deliver a complete solution, and those investments often apply only to a small number of products. As a result, people with disabilities who use AT devices — such as screen readers for people who are blind — are sometimes unable to access information on certain Web sites or applications and may be forced to wait for upgrades before they can use the latest software.
Although customers and developers would see significant value in having the consistent implementation of a single accessibility model across all IT products, AT devices and Web sites, the millions of Web pages and thousands of software applications already on the market would have to be modified to benefit from that single model, creating additional economic and technology challenges. Therefore, the AIA is embarking on a mission to build bridges between current technologies, enabling them to interoperate with each other while also beginning the longer-term work of eventually bringing them together into a single solution suitable for the entire industry.
“Many companies invest heavily to create technology products that are accessible,” said Andrew Kirkpatrick, senior product manager for accessibility at Adobe Systems Inc. “By combining expertise in information technology, assistive technologies and Web content, the AIA provides an opportunity for the industry to harmonize accessibility APIs to make it easier for all companies to deliver more accessible products and to make achieving accessibility on multiple platforms attainable.”
AT Innovation and Interoperability Expands Markets, Benefits Customers
Reducing barriers to accessibility development and improving interoperability among current and future technologies is also expected to create broader markets and new opportunities for many companies. Although the advantages of reducing barriers to accessible development are significant for technology companies, customers will benefit most from increased interoperability between products and innovation in the marketplace.
“Accessible technology is going mainstream as more and more people, with and without disabilities, begin to discover the many ways it can improve their quality of life,” said Claudio Giugliemma, CEO of QualiLife, an assistive technology company based in Switzerland. “Because of the work AIA will do to improve interoperability and to foster collaboration and innovation across the industry, more people, especially those with disabilities, will be able to use technology products to help with healthcare, aging in place and other important life issues.”
Founding members of AIA include information technology companies such as Adobe, BayFirst Solutions LLC, Microsoft and Novell Inc.; hardware companies such as HP; and assistive technology companies such as Claro Software Ltd., Dolphin Computer Access, GW Micro Inc., HiSoftware Inc., Madentec Inc., Texthelp Systems Inc. and QualiLife. Leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) may also participate and share their expertise on these and future AIA projects. More information about the AIA can be found at http://www.AccessInteropAlliance.org.
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