Access all ARIAs

This article first appeared in issue 231 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

When you create a User Interface (UI) widget it’s likely to be a composite of HTML elements. Generally speaking it’s easy for someone to work out what the widget does, or what role it plays within the page, based on the way it looks or the controls it makes available. That holistic perspective isn’t obvious to assistive technologies (ATs) though, and that (of course) is where ARIA comes in.

ARIA, or Accessible Rich Internet Applications to give it its full title, can be used to give your widget a role. Or to look at it another way, you can use ARIA roles to tell ATs something about your bundle of HTML elements as though they were a single entity.

The ARIA 1.0 specification includes a taxonomy of roles. It describes the characteristics and properties of 73 different roles, grouped into four high level categories.

The first category defines 12 abstract roles. In the same way that abstract classes are never instantiated when programming, abstract roles should never be used within your code. They describe different types of role at a conceptual level, and so they’re used only within the taxonomy itself.

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