Creating accessible web content is a challenge. Many of the tools used to author web content make this challenge bigger because they do not give the author any help or guidance in creating accessible content.
The latest guidelines from W3C define what an authoring tool should do and will make it easier for tool developers to include the appropriate function and for tool buyers to evaluate the available tools and choose the one that makes the challenge easier.
The Last Call Working Draft of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG 2.0) were published on 8 July 2010 and comments are being accepted until 29th October. At this stage of the development of a guideline I would not expect any substantive changes to the content; any changes are likely to be to improve the clarity and precision of the guidelines. This means that any organisation that is in the process of evaluating authoring tools can use this draft to assist in the decision process.
I would recommend that all interested parties review the draft and make any recommendations for changes. Also tool vendors and buyers should start using the draft to aid their design and evaluation processes.
I believe that the introduction to the draft guidelines are worth reading and so I quote them verbatim here:
This section is informative.
This is a Working Draft of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) version 2.0. This document includes recommendations for assisting authoring tool developers to make the authoring tools that they develop more accessible to people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, motor difficulties, speech difficulties, and others.
Accessibility, from an authoring tool perspective, includes addressing the needs of two (potentially overlapping) user groups with disabilities:
ATAG 2.0 Layers of Guidance
The individuals and organizations that may use ATAG 2.0 vary widely and include authoring tool developers, authoring tool users (authors), authoring tool purchasers, and policy makers. In order to meet the varying needs of this audience, several layers of guidance are provided including two parts, overall principles, general guidelines, testable success criteria and an Implementing ATAG 2.0 document.
Parts: ATAG 2.0 is divided into two parts, each reflecting a key aspect of accessible authoring tools. Part A relates to ensuring the accessibility of authoring tool user interfaces to authors with disabilities. Part B relates to ensuring support by authoring tools for the creation, by any author (not just those with disabilities), of web content that is accessible to end users with disabilities. Each part includes normative applicability notes that apply to all of the success criteria within that part (see Part A Applicability Notes, Part B Applicability Notes).
Principles: Each of the two parts includes several high-level principles that organize the guidelines.
Guidelines: Under the principles are guidelines. The guidelines provide the basic goals that authoring tool developers should work toward in order to make authoring tools more accessible to both authors and end users of web content with different disabilities. The guidelines are not testable, but provide the framework and overall objectives to help authoring tool developers understand the success criteria. Each guideline includes a brief rationale for why the guideline was included.
Success Criteria: For each guideline, testable success criteria are provided to allow ATAG 2.0 to be used where requirements and conformance testing are necessary such as in design specification, purchasing, regulation, and contractual agreements. In order to meet the needs of different groups and different situations, multiple levels of full and partial conformance are defined (see Levels of Conformance).
Implementing ATAG 2.0 document: The Implementing ATAG 2.0 document provides additional non-normative information for each success criterion, including a description of the intent of the success criterion, examples and links to related resources.
All of these layers of guidance (parts, principles, guidelines, success criteria, and the Implementing ATAG 2.0 document) work together to provide guidance on how to make authoring tools more accessible. Authoring tool developers are encouraged to review all of the layers.
Integration of Accessibility Features
When implementing ATAG 2.0, it is recommended that authoring tool developers closely integrate features that support accessible authoring with the "look-and-feel" of other features of the authoring tool. Close integration has the potential to:
produce a more seamless product;
leverage the existing knowledge and skills of authors;
make authors more receptive to new accessibility-related authoring requirements; and
reduce the likelihood of author confusion.