ACM Policy Award
USA - 2021
For her leadership of the Web Accessibility Initiative and development of multiple web accessibility standards, which have been adopted globally and improved accessibility for millions worldwide
As Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium, Judy Brewer has led the development of standards and strategies for inclusive web design, providing web developers with tools necessary to bring the power and the promise of the World Wide Web to millions of people who otherwise might have been excluded from this vital component of modern life.
To understand Judy Brewer's contributions to the widespread utility and usability of the World Wide Web, we must consider the early days of the Web in the late 1990s. Although web design was flourishing, accessibility was not. Millions of new users, eager to make their mark on the web used image maps, frames, and other features that proved problematic at best and prohibitive at worst for users with auditory, cognitive, motor, neurological, physical, speech and visual disabilities. WAI, under Judy's direction since 1997, changed all of this. The development of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provided developers with a set of criteria to judge the accessibility of sites and inspired the development of compliance tools capable of reviewing web pages to identify potentially non-navigable menu structures and images without alternative textual descriptions. The WCAG specification and these tools provided a baseline for accessible web design, and for accessibility of web-based technologies such as real-time communications and virtual reality.
Under Judy's leadership, WAI has also worked extensively with government agencies, industry, and disability organizations, leading to the adoption of WCAG as an international standard (ISO/IEC 40500:2012), and the alignment of the WCAG models with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the U.S. and European Mandate 376 requiring accessible technology procurement and development in all EU countries. The WCAG standards have been translated into 23 languages and been adopted by dozens of countries-nearly every government around the world that has requirements for digital accessibility cites WCAG. In a very real sense, WAI has led the evolution of the web from expensive and unscalable alternative text-only designs to a modern reality of highly-accessible layouts designed to seamlessly work on both desktops and smartphones.
As director of the WAI, Judy Brewer has led these efforts for more than 20 years, participating on numerous committees of the US Access Board, the US National Council on Disability, the FCC, the ISO/IEC standards bodies, industry groups, and many others. She has published widely on accessibility; testified before US Congress and government organizations in Korea, Denmark, China, and other countries; given numerous international keynote presentations; and has been honored by numerous groups concerned with accessibility.
Over the past 25 years, the Web has gone from a computational novelty to a critical tool for banking, education, commerce, voting, and numerous other activities vital for everyday life. Under Judy's leadership, the WAI has been a leading force in ensuring the accessibility and availability of the Web to millions of people. Judy Brewer's work with the WAI provides an inspiring example of how global technical standards can change lives throughout the world.