Managing Director at User Vision
09 June 2008 17:38pm
With the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines being made a Candidate Recommendation on 30th April 2008, many companies are starting to prepare for the arrival of the new Accessibility Guidelines.
What exactly is different though? What are the main things you should know about at this stage to prepare yourself for the new guidelines?
1. The guidelines are at candidate recommendation stage.
This means that the WAI think the technical content is stable and want developers and designers to start using WCAG 2.0, to test it out in every-day situations on their own sites. Sites should not be measured against WCAG 2.0 at the moment in terms of providing a statement of the accessibility of a site - WCAG 1.0 is still the standard to work to at present. Rather, this type of testing by users within the industry is useful in highlighting omissions and flaws with the version 2.0 guidelines.
2. The guidelines are flexible and adaptable
Due to the technology independence of the new guidelines, they are flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate new concepts or technologies as the web moves forward. The web has changed quite considerably since version 1.0 of the guidelines were published and in many respects they have been left behind by the technologies which have emerged in recent years, most notably ‘Rich Internet Applications' such as Ajax and Flex.
3. Many vague and/or obsolete requirements have been removed or revised.A large number of WCAG 1.0 requirements have caused confusion for a considerable time. In some cases, the actual recommendations made for checkpoints themselves were in danger of reducing accessibility rather than enhancing it.
For instance, the requirement to fill empty form fields with placeholder text created a fairly labour intensive user experience for anyone filling in a web form.
Other requirements which have shrugged off the WCAG mortal coil include the use of Access Keys, the provision of abbreviations for table headers and the insistence that layout tables have no more than one column.
4. Unfortunately, some useful requirements have been removedAlthough a number of the more problematic requirements have been consigned to history, many useful requirements such as ensuring that web pages validate to the stated version of html and css have also been removed. There was previously a requirement in WCAG 1.0 which said that images should not be used to stylise text. This is also gone. The use of images for text is a potentially big accessibility hurdle on a number of different levels and removing this checkpoint could prove detrimental to users with visual disabilities in particular.
6. It claims to covers a wider range of disabilitiesWCAG 2.0 apparently provides much more information with regards to making sites more accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities, particularly cognitive and learning disabilities. This claim has been criticised in many quarters and there are a number of accessibility experts who feel that the actual design of the guidelines document itself is inaccessible for people with cognitive and learning difficulties.
7. Success is more measurable
The WCAG 1.0 guidelines often asked us to follow certain standards without actually making the achievement of these standards measurable. An excellent example of this was the guideline which stated that ‘sufficient' colour contrast between foreground and background elements should be in place without actually providing details of what constituted ‘sufficient' colour contrast. In the new guidelines, the degree of contrast required has been quantified.
8. The new WCAG 2.0 guidelines are based on four basic principles. Web content should be:-
9. It has attracted a lot of criticismThe concept of baseline isn't the only area of controversy around WCAG 2.0. One of the accessibility community's leading lights, Joe Clark, savaged the guidelines in an article in online magazine ‘A List Apart' saying that the improvements, if any, were not worth the wait.
10. It won't change the basic way you implement accessibility The most reassuring fact about WCAG 2.0 is that your existing approach to accessibility will not change dramatically. Images will still require alternative text, form fields will still require labels and text sizes will still require to be scalable. What will change is the way in which the accessibility of your site is measured. If you currently operate good practice guidelines around accessibility then essentially WCAG 2.0 should be nothing to worry about.
This article was written by Mark Palmer, an accessibility consultant at User Vision, a leading usability and web accessibility consultancy. He has tremendous experience in accessibility and helps to run User Vision's accessibility audits, training and usability testing with disabled users.
CEO at SciVisum.co.uk
10 June 2008 14:47pm
WCAG 2.0 won't stop the interminable debate in the druidic_elite_echelons of accessibility about the subtler black arts.... :<)
But I think you're right when you say:"If you currently operate good practice guidelines around accessibility then essentially WCAG 2.0 should be nothing to worry about."
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