Accessibility Interoperability Alliance News

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

The news that IBM has joined the AIA significantly strengthens this important cross-vendor initiative.

About eight months ago, on December 10, 2007, a coalition of leading information technology (IT) and assistive technology (AT) companies announced the formation of the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA). An engineering working group dedicated to enabling developers to more easily create accessible software, hardware and Web products. These solutions will reduce barriers to information and communication technologies that currently exist for people with disabilities in today’s digital world.

The founding companies included:

  • Information Technology (IT) companies:
    • Adobe Systems
    • Bayfirst Solutions
    • Design Science, Inc.
    • HP
    • Microsoft
    • Novell
    • Oracle
  • Assistive Technology (AT) companies:
    • Acapela Group
    • CAST
    • Claro Software
    • Dolphin Oceanic
    • Eyetech Digital Systems, Inc.
    • GW Micro
    • HiSoftware
    • Madentec
    • QualiLife
    • Serotek Corporation
    • TextHelp Systems

IBM was noticeably absent from this list so I was delighted to see the announcement, on August 4, 2008, that IBM has joined the Alliance and will sit on the executive committee. In the same announcement GW Micro, the developers of the screen reader Window-Eyes, also joined the executive committee. The executive committee is now made up of the accessibility heavyweights in the vendor community: Rob Sinclair from Microsoft, Andrew Kirkpatrick from Adobe, Richard Schwerdtfeger from IBM, Doug Geoffray from GW Micro and Claudio Giugliemma from Qualilife.

The best way to understand what the alliance will be involved in is to look at the four initial projects that the alliance will carry out (I have copied the project descriptions word-for-word and then added my comments in brackets):

User Interface (UI) Automation

This Working Group’s charter is to conduct a cross-industry review of the UIA specification to clarify and document implementation Best Practices. The Working Group will define extensions to the specification to address new controls, content or interaction scenarios in applications or assistive technology products.

(The first announcement from the Alliance came in January 2008 when Microsoft announced that it had committed to contribute its User Interface Automation (UIA) specification to the AIA. This is related to an earlier announcement from Microsoft and Novell to enable cross-platform accessibility by implementing UI Automation on Linux to enable the exchange of accessibility information between Windows and Linux. The UIA specification describes Microsoft’s latest accessibility framework technology, and will help developers include advanced accessibility functionality into implementations designed for use on the Windows or Linux operating systems. I understand that the continuing development of the UIA will now rest with this working group.)

Mapping WAI-ARIA to UI Automation

This Working Group’s charter is to enhance support of these additional specifications.

(With the completion of WAI-ARIA expected later this year this group should be very busy ensuring the interpretation of the standard and the implementations are compatible and consistent across all the vendors.)

Interoperability of Accessibility APIs

This Working Group’s charter is to align the semantics of the leading accessibility APIs in use in the industry today:

  • Active Accessibility (MSAA);
  • IAccessible2;
  • UI Automation (UIA);
  • ATK/AT-SPI; and
  • OSX Accessibility Protocol

This alignment will facilitate high-quality mapping of information among these accessibility models.

(IBM was one of the major developers of IAccessible2 and hence the importance of IBM being a member of AIA).

Common Keyboard Shortcuts for AT Products Used with Web Browsers

This Working Group’s charter is to:

  • Engage with other industry efforts to define common keyboard shortcuts for web applications and web 2.0 controls.
  • Prevent or manage keyboard shortcut conflicts and interoperability between browsers, web pages and ATs.
  • Additional projects, as approved by the AIA Steering Committee, will follow.


The Alliance brings together system, application and AT vendors. The ability of these different vendors to discuss detailed interoperability issues and then to agree how to resolve should improve the usability and accessibility for all.

The addition of IBM and GW Micro to the executive committee should provide a major boost to the realisation of the Alliances admirable objectives.