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By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-07-11 Print this article Print

Not to be outdone, IBM in June announced plans to donate key intellectual property to the open-source community to help with AJAX accessibility challenges. IBM is contributing code to the Dojo Toolkit, a popular open-source AJAX development framework. The IBM contributions will extend the Dojo Toolkit to further enable the internationalization of applications and make them more accessible to persons with disabilities through a variety of assistive technologies, including DHTML and accessible widgets, IBM officials said.
Sun signs on with the OpenAJAX Alliance and the Dojo Foundation to help advance AJAX tooling and interoperability. Click here to read more.
Alex Russell, project lead for the Dojo Toolkit and president of the Dojo Foundation, said in a statement: "IBMs contributions are creating the foundation for even broader adoption of dynamic Web interfaces, even for users that have traditionally not benefited from them." Kevin Hakman, director of product marketing for TIBCO General Interface at TIBCO Software, said The Open AJAX Alliance, of which TIBCO is a member, has placed AJAX accessibility on its agenda. "More significantly, the browser vendors and … the screen reader vendors like Freedom Scientific with its popular JAWS product are addressing it [accessibility and AJAX]," Hakman said. "Accordingly, its an industry effort, not just the effort of one vendor." AJAX and accessibility is "definitely a big topic," according to Dion Almaer, an AJAX expert and co-founder of has increasingly addressed the issue, noting that lawsuits regarding AJAX and accessibility have cropped up when some users were unable to access information from Web sites that used AJAX-style applications. However, the bottom line is "It is hard to be 100 percent accessible," Almaer said. "People are working on it, including big people like IBM, and many people just do not care to be accessible in the standards sense." Coach Wei, chief technology officer and co-founder of Nexaweb Technologies, of Burlington, Mass., said a lot more needs to be done to address accessibility and AJAX. "This is a key issue, and I dont think the community is paying enough attention to it yet," Wei said. He said plain HTML is fairly accessible, in that most browsers feature support for accessibility technologies such as keyboard navigation, screen readers and so on. "However, AJAX pushes developers to fancy user interfaces that can easily break accessibility," Wei said. Essentially, AJAX brings two problems to accessibility: incompatibility with non-AJAX browsers; and accessibility with the AJAX user interface—most AJAX applications use AJAX widgets that may or may not support accessibility, Wei said. "I think accessibility is an important requirement for AJAX to be adopted by enterprises, and the community still has a long way to go to address it," Wei said. Meanwhile, TIBCOs Hakman shared the contents of an e-mail he received from Dennis Godin, a technical support specialist at Freedom Scientific, in St, Petersburg, Fla., that said Freedom Scientific plans to include support for AJAX in the next version of the companys JAWS screen reader, Version 7.10. Guru Jakob Nielsen offers advice on designing applications for usability. Click here to watch the video. Joe Walker, a partner in the London-based consultancy Getahead and creator of the DWR (Direct Web Remoting) tool kit, a Java-based AJAX tool kit, said in a blog post that he believes there are three myths about AJAX and accessibility: AJAX is a single issue; all accessibility issues must be fixed; and JavaScript wont work with screen readers. "One of the problems with accessibility as a single concept is that it lumps together issues that are sometimes fairly unrelated," Walker said. Blind people have different accessibility requirements from partially sighted people, or those with motor impairment, he said. Likewise, people with slow modems need different things than those on corporate networks with strict security, Walker added. "We need to think about separate requirements separately," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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