Managing Director at User Vision
17 March 2009 13:44pm
There has been an important shift recently in the accessibility landscape with the publication of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0 at the end of 2008. Companies have now had over two months to understand the new guidelines and re-consider their existing site in the light of the changes. Judging from some of our clients and other companies I have spoken to that are aware of accessibility, many have found the change relatively easy, and have had greater clarity on their site’s performance for accessibility. What has your experience with implementing the new guidelines been?Background – WCAG 1 and the DDAThe revised guidelines have been a long time coming. Here is a brief history of their arrival.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were initially published in 1999 as a means of providing a set of standards for making websites usable by all people, regardless of disability.
Version 1.0 of the guidelines tried to address most of the common issues encountered by disabled users when trying to access web content and were considered the de facto standard with which all sites should comply. In the UK, Governmental bodies were particularly concerned with meeting the guidelines as part of their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 and many set up their own internal requirement that particular levels of compliance be met.
All Change? Introduction of WCAG 2
The publication of the much anticipated version 2.0 of the guidelines on the 11th of December 2008 therefore, is likely to have raised the question in many organisations as to whether their sites are still considered accessible under the new guidelines.
In most cases, the answer will be yes. WCAG 2.0 is not so much a reinvention of the wheel as an updating of it. The WCAG equivalent of moving from iron rimmed cart wheels to the pneumatic tyre. There are some differences though, as well as improvements and flaws with the new guidelines.
WCAG 1.0 was not wearing well. Outdated, vague, difficult to measure and not entirely even handed in the way it dealt with each particular disability group. WCAG 2.0 is updated but arguably still vague, although at least it appears to be better thought out and more even handed.The four POUR Principles
Probably the most fundamental change is the introduction of four guiding ‘principles’ – all web content must be ‘Perceivable’, ‘Operable’, ‘Understandable’ and ‘Robust’. Guidelines are organised by principle and unlike WCAG 1.0, each checkpoint can be met to a variety of levels across A, AA or AAA allowing conformance to a number of different levels rather than confining checkpoints to particular priorities.
Not only does this provide more flexibility for anyone trying to implement the guidelines, it also removes the sometimes unfair prioritisation of checkpoints under WCAG 1.0, whereby accessibility features which benefited one particular disability group would be considered a Priority 1 checkpoint whilst accessibility features considered by another disability group to be of equal importance would, unfairly in the many people’s opinion, be consigned to Priority 2.
The level of detail in the supporting documents for WCAG 2.0 is impressive with both techniques and a list of examples of potential fails being provided. This certainly clears up many of the issues in WCAG 1.0 where not only was the checkpoint itself vague, but also what constituted a pass or a fail once you had actually identified the nature of the checkpoint.
Greater measurability and clarity
Success in WCAG 2.0 is considerably more measurable. Whereas WCAG 1.0 used terms such as ‘sufficient’ when referring to colour contrast between foreground and background elements, WCAG 2.0 actually provides a ratio of 5:1 to pass at level A and 7:1 to pass at AA. A further example would be the stipulation that page content must be scalable to at least 200% of its original size. These ratios result in infinitely more measurable checkpoints.
Some of the more measurable checkpoints will no doubt lead to some head scratching, not least of which is the requirement that background and foreground noise differ by at least 20 decibels. Quite how that can be calculated by merely listening to audio or video content remains to be seen.
Further criticisms have however been levelled at WCAG 2.0, particularly that the accessibility of the supporting documents is suspect. Lengthy, jargon filled documents containing numerous hyperlinks come in for criticism as does the lack of clarity around some of the definitions. For instance, an ‘authored component’ is described as ‘an authored unit intended to be used as part of another authored unit’. This lack of clarity and the ‘technology independent’ nature of the guidelines make them very confusing at times.
Criticisms and implementation difficulties aside though, for most developers with an understanding of and responsibility for accessibility, many of the techniques used to produce accessible pages and interfaces will remain the same and it is unlikely that currently accessible pages will suddenly become completely inaccessible under the new guidelines.
Sites will require to be audited in order to determine which level of conformance they now meet under WCAG 2.0 and a degree of change may be required to meet the chosen level of compliance. Both developers and business staff with a responsibility for web content should immediately download a copy of the new guidelines and begin familiarising themselves with the complexities.
Overall, WCAG 2.0 is a vast improvement on WCAG 1.0. It remains to be seen how easy these are to apply in practise and whether technological independence will result in the guidelines being more future proof. One thing we can be sure of is that WCAG 2.0 and all of its good points and bad points will be a hot topic for discussion for the foreseeable future.
I hope that adjusting to WCAG 2 has been relatively easy transition for you but would be interested in your feedback.
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