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The ATRC played an active consultation role in the design of an accessible HTML authoring tool.

Recently, SoftQuad announced the release of version 4.0 of their HoTMetaL HTML authoring package.  For the first time in a commercial HTML authoring tool, this package includes features to encourage and aid Web authors in the production of accessible HTML documents.  The ATRC played an active consultation role in the design of these features.


1. Emphasis on Accessibility Requirements

In other major HTML authoring packages, important accessibility requirements, such as alternate (alt) text and alt content, are given low priority during the insertion of inaccessible elements such as images or Applets. HoTMetaL 4.0 on the other hand, has been designed to place emphasis on those attributes that need to be present for accessibility. Moreover, links are provided to the help system, where explanations, guidelines and pointers help the author to understand and succeed at producing pages that can be read by anyone.


2. Descriptive Text Editing Facility

For complex or important images, alt text is sometimes inadequate. At these times it is often suggested that a longer text description be placed in a separate text only file, that is accessed via a D-tag placed after the image in question. HoTMetaL 4.0 includes a descriptive text editor that handles the text file creation and D-tag creation, so that the user can focus on writing the description instead of worrying about formatting. No other commercially available HTML editor contains this feature.


3. Accessible HTML Checker

Although there are utilities on the Web that will check a page's accessibility automatically, no other HTML authoring tool includes a built-in checker.  This means that pages can be checked off-line during all stages of authoring and certain errors can even be corrected from within the checker. Future versions of HoTMetaL will include even more automated correcting tools bundled with the checker.


4. User Controlled Automatic Accessibility Prompting

Since accessible HTML authoring often involves modifying or avoiding relatively common authoring practices, it is important to notify the author about inaccessibilities as soon as possible. To do this, HoTMetaL employs pop-up dialogs that appear as soon as a major inaccessibility is added to a page. However, this intrusive alert is only displayed if the Automatic Accessibility Prompting level is set to Strict by the user in the Options area

5. Comprehensive Help Support

Perhaps the most important feature of HoTMetaL 4.0's accessible HTML authoring is the extensive Help system. Authors who are interested in authoring accessible pages, but who aren't sure about how to go about it, will find explanations of accessibility problems and their fixes, examples, and guidelines.