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What is WAI? The Web Accessibility Initiative

The Web Accessibility Initiative is W3C's effort to improve accessibility of the Web for people with disabilities.

What is the World Wide Consortium?

In order to know about the Web Accessibility Initiative, we must first talk about the World Wide Consortium, also known as W3C.

Founded in 1994 and currently led by director Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaff, W3C is an international community where organizers develop international standards for the Web.

As described by W3’s website, “W3C's mission is to lead the Web to its full potential.”

Organizers from all around the world, involved in many different fields, join W3C to develop guidelines that ensure long-term growth for the Web. The Web Accessibility Initiative is one initiative that was launched by W3C.

What is the Web Accessibility Initiative?

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

W3C launched The Web Accessibility Initiative, (WAI), in 1997, with support from the White House. The Web Accessibility Initiative’s main goal is to make the internet accessible for people with disabilities.

WAI brings people from disability organizations, governments, and research labs from all around the world to develop guidelines and resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities. This includes: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual disabilities.

In short, WAI develops accessibility standards and offers implementation guidance.

As described by W3C Website, WAI “pursues accessibility of the web through these primary activities”:

  • Ensuring that W3C standards support accessibility
  • Developing accessibility guidelines for web content and applications,
    browsers, and authoring tools
  • Developing resources to improve web accessibility evaluation
    processes and tools
  • Supporting education and outreach on web accessibility
  • Coordinating with research and development that may impact future
    accessibility of the web
  • Promoting harmonized international uptake of web accessibility

Two best examples of WAI’s significance in everyday technology life are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, (WCAG) and Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) Recommendations that were created by members of WAI.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, (WCAG) and Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) Recommendations:

WAI’s effort created guidelines for developers, designers and people in tech to use every single day. Some of the most used guidelines and applications have been WCAG and WAI-ARIA.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG is a benchmark for web accessibility. WCAG was created with a goal to clearly define technical standards and unifying accessibility standards. WCAG’s standards are categorized under 4 principles.


People should be able to identify content and elements by means of their senses. For example, if a website's navigation changes from page to page, they will have to relearn the navigation of the site, which will not be a great experience.


People should successfully use controls, buttons, navigation, and other interactive elements on the page. One example of this would be that websites should be operable by a keyboard and the page should have the same functionalities it has when a mouse is used to navigate.


People should be able to comprehend the content and learn from your website. One example of this would defining abbreviations or jargon for the reader.


Websites should be able to be accessed by a wide variety of technologies. For example, websites should be accessible for screen readers, as well as many different browser versions.

Each WCAG guideline has success criteria broken down to three standards, A, AA, and AAA. AA is considered ideal support, and AAA is typically reserved for specialized audiences.

Accessible Rich Internet Applications

Accessible Rich Internet Applications, or WAI-ARIA is also a guideline that was created by WAI to provide an accessible experience for custom coded interactive experiences. In particular, WAI-ARIA gives guidance on how to create accessible dynamic content and user interface components.

For example, ARIA can help developers divide the page into sections, similar to a table of contents in a book, so it’ll be easier for people to navigate the page. ARIA defines ways for functionality of the assistive technology. With the help of WAI-ARIA guidance and rules, developers can make websites accessible to all users.

Currently WAI-ARIA version 1.2 is under development.

Interested persons can join one of many WAI working groups or interest groups to be part of the process to make websites accessible to all.

Working groups and interest groups:

Purpose of WAI is to bring together members with different backgrounds to contribute to making websites more accessible. Web Accessibility Initiative’s working groups develop accessibility guidelines. People in the industry can join and participate in.

Some of the working group and interest groups listed on their web site are as follows:


The Web Accessibility Initiative was launched by the World Web Consortium.

WAI develops accessibility standards and offers implementation guidance.

WAI is a group of people all around the world that contribute ideas on how the internet can be more accessible for people with disabilities. Members who are interested in joining can find more information on the W3C website.

WAI touches most of the accessibility work that has been done. For example, designers and developers look for WCAG standards to see if their website is accessible or not. Developers also use WAI-ARIA’s guidance to know whether or not some interactions are accessible.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, (WCAG) and Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) Recommendations are some examples of WAI’s guidance on web accessibility.