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Pronounced way. Short for the Web Accessibility Initiative, an initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium launched in 1997 to ensure that as the Internet grows in usage Web sites are designed to accommodate people with disabilities.

Web design can present barriers to people with disabilities, especially people with sensory or neurological disabilities. The WAI was implemented to ensure that Web site design addresses the needs of people with these disabilities. The following are examples of the accommodations that Web designers need to consider in order to be compliant with the WAI's guidelines.

  • visual disabilities -- people with visual disabilities can have trouble reading text and visual clues on a Web site. Blind users cannot rely on visual stimulation on a Web site.
  • hearing disabilities -- people with hearing disabilities are at a disadvantage on Web sites that do not offer captions for audio or that rely on sounds to navigate the site.
  • physical disabilities -- people with physical disabilities can have trouble navigating sites that do not offer keyboard or single-switch support for menu commands (i.e., sites that rely on navigation via mouse). People with physical disabilities can also be at a disadvantage in virtual reality, gesture recognition or haptic environments that rely on physical movement for interfacing.
  • neurological disabilities -- people with neurological disabilities can be at a disadvantage on sites that are complex to understand, do not have a consistent navigation structure, have a complex presentation of language or have flashing/strobing images and designs.

The WAI has five levels of concern in Web design:

  • technology -- ensuring that current and developing Web technologies support accessibility.
  • guidelines -- developing guidelines for accessibility that web designers can follow.
  • tools -- developing tools that can evaluate the level of accessibility of a site.
  • education -- conducting education and outreach so that web designers and others will understand the need for continued and expanded accessibility. As the Web expands, the growth must address accessibility.
  • research and development -- coordinating with researchers and developers to ensure that accessibility is built into the technology instead of developing accessibility once a technology has been implemented.

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