Anne van Kesteren

My Formal Objection to WAI-ARIA

The W3C Process has a concept called “Formal Objection” which a specification reviewer can use when he/she disagrees with the Working Group in charge of the specification. It ensures that his/her comment gets reviewed by the Director (used to be Tim Berners-Lee, but now is typically someone appointed by him) who can then overrule the decision of the Working Group but typically sides with them.

I issued a Formal Objection during the WAI-ARIA Last Call period, which was a really painful process. Typically when you comment on a specification you get a conversation going with the people interested in that part of the specification. However, with this Working Group your comment disappears, gets discussed in a committee, and weeks later is returned to you with minimal progress. This is the only Working Group at the W3C relevant to the Web Platform with such a closed and secretive process. Quite frustrating really.

Anyway, my objection was that WAI-ARIA should not have let the processing model of its attributes depend on the namespace of the element they are declared on. WAI-ARIA should have defined a uniform processing model for them. So far I have not received an email indicating how my Formal Objection was addressed, but I did find a public document — WAI-ARIA Lexical Processing — that discusses my comment.

The thing I do not want is that authors need to use a different syntax for the same attribute just because it was used in SVG rather than HTML. The Working Group in charge of WAI-ARIA apparently thinks such divergence is acceptable and the Director agreed.

Now this does not mean different processing models will in fact happen. I am quite confident that browser vendors will not do that to authors — though admittedly we have done silly things before. It just means it will take longer to get the specification right.