The Web Accessiiblity Initiative’s Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, WAI-ARIA is a simple way to add information to HTML that can make Ajax applications accessible. It’s being supported by all the big four browsers and screenreaders are starting to support it.
Therefore, although the specification is still formally in “Working Draft” status, the W3C are encouraging authors to use it now. I plan to; it’s the only game in town to add the necessary semantics to lovable old HTML 4 until HTML 5 is widely implemented.
To encourage adoption, there is a mailing list called the Free ARIA google group which you can read and join.
Opera is taking the message to the Ajax crew at the Ajax Experience conference next week, and Anne Van Kesteren is presenting “Ajax 2.0” in which he’ll introduce and demo ARIA (and other exciting things).
Speaking from my experience as a web author, though, one of the things that might slow adoption is the fact that new semantics like ARIA don’t validate against the old HTML specs. As someone who has spent half a decade badgering people about valid code, I know that lots of enlightened organisations don’t allow invalid code on their websites—and these are just the kind of thought-leaders who I’d like to see adopting ARIA.
The experimental HTML 5 validator has support for ARIA but doesn’t have the kudos of the W3C name.
So, I suggest that the W3C to add ARIA to the official validator. That would send a strong message about its commitment to ARIA, as well as allow codeshops, organisations and individuals who want validation to use it, to the immediate benefit of web users with disabilities.
Added Tues 30 September: Steve Faulkner, of the Paciello Group and member of the W3C‘s Protocols and Formats Working Group has asked if the W3C can build an a validator that can test (X)HTML and ARIA conformance.