by Ronny Tittoto, Marketing Manager of Mida Solutions (www.midasolutions.com)
HTML5 opens up lots of opportunities in web app development, moving from webpages to interactive applications. Local storage, multimedia support and canvas are some of the building blocks that can be used. Web browsers are introducing real-time functionalities and communication support. An example is Web-RTC where a web app can offer unified collaboration functionalities that in the past could be achieved only with native applications or external plugins.
Web accessibility is not a new topic and lots of work has been done so far by W3C and the Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI-ARIA, the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, defines a way to make web content and applications accessible to people with disabilities. It helps with dynamic content and user interface controls. It addresses accessibility challenges by defining ways for functionality to be provided to assistive technologies. It is already supported in several browsers and the W3C candidate recommendation version 1.0 can be found at w3.org/TR/wai-aria/.
Assistive technologies in the case of visually impaired or blind people require interaction with vocalizers and dedicated end user peripherals such as braille screens. Challenges are technical integration with assistive technologies and user experience factors.
Attendant console applications are used by operators that need to handle large amounts of phone calls. Such consoles are generally used in large enterprises and public administration organizations. Real-time interactions and fast application response are fundamental aspects. Interestingly, often these services are run by visually impaired or blind operators.
Porting console to a web app approach has several advantages like readiness with emerging collaboration protocols (Web-RTC), clientless deployment, ubiquitous access and migration to SaaS collaboration offerings. Adaptive Cascading Style Sheets provide a simple and easy framework to build applications that can change colors, font size and contrasts. They provide features to address the needs of visually impaired people working with high contrast user interfaces and screen magnifiers.
Application actions and functions need to be accessible from keyboard shortcuts. Visually impaired users don’t like to deal with mouse-intensive applications, especially in real-time.
Integration with vocalizers is also an interesting topic. Some support only specific browsers and therefore the app has to assure full functionality. Tab indexes and focus transitions are the key aspects, driving the vocalizer to read relevant information.
Desktop notifications are relevant for operators working on multiple tasks. HTML5 tackles this aspect from different angles, depending on user habits and role. Operators dealing only with the attendant console can easily manage call notifications receiving an acoustic alert every time a new call is received. Those managing multiple tasks can leverage built-in HTML5 notifications that seamlessly integrate with standard OS notification panels.
It is possible to build accessible web-based collaboration applications. This is a great opportunity for developers and users, letting anyone access cloud-based applications even in the case of real-time interactions and whatever SaaS will offer in the near future.