Weblogs: Web Accessibility

Questioning WCAG2

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Web accessibility expert Joe Clark calls for WCAG 2.0 to be scrapped, and offers the alternative of making corrections to WCAG 1.0 - since its serving the web community well.

I'm a little torn on this issue. WCAG2 shows no signs of emerging from the W3C any time soon, and my fear is that it won't be directly useful to web developers immediately without intermediary documentation centred around the choice of baseline.


WCAG 2 does do a number of things right - the approach of baselines allows sites to use newer technologies to offer a better experience to visitors with disabilities. We're clearly moving away from the dogmatic if it ain't HTML it ain't accessible stance, through to a practical application of accessibility with current technologies that are already out there in the real world.

Perceivable, Operable, Navigable and Robustness

I'm reluctant to just dump WCAG 2.0 in its entirety - there must be pieces that are salvageable. The principles of Perceivable, Operable, Navigable and Robustness offer an elegant description of what it is to be accessible, and provide a neat framework for assessing potential accessibility barriers.

Technology independent

WCAG 2 tries to tackle the issue of accessibility from a technology neutral perspective. That's why the documents look like an abstract mathematics paper - its devoid of the very tools we use in our everyday development. Theoretically, it may be a logical approach, but its practical usage is very limited.

The Techniques document has been scaled back to just HTML Techniques. When I first joined the Working Group, we had PDF Techniques and Dom Scripting Techniques documents on the agenda. That's quickly fallen away - largely owing to the amount of work required. And that I feel, is a critical mistake, and one that largely guarantees that WCAG 2 will take a long time before its in a usable state - if that is at all possible.

WCAG 2 not a practical document

I feel that once WCAG 2.0 is published as a recommendation, groups of people will need to take this document and use it to write another document that covers the technology choices they have selected. WCAG 2.0 alone cannot fill the role that WCAG 1.0 fills for a baseline of requiring only HTML.

Falling back to WCAG 1

Repairing WCAG 1.0 does make sense - web development techniques and understanding have improved, and WCAG 1.0 needs to recognise these steps forward.

My main concern about restarting WCAG 1 is that that recommendation is based around one baseline (of HTML only). Many checkpoints centre around enforcing this limitation (checkpoints that effectively ban any non-W3C technology for instance). Obviously, these checkpoints need to be re-evaluated (in the light of improvements to, and assistive technology support of, Dom Scripting and Flash).

The practical limit

What web developers need is a document that replaces WCAG 1. A set of guidelines that takes into account the significant improvements in web technologies since WCAG 1 was first published. I think WCAG 2, by itself, will fail to deliver that replacement.

I can't see myself using, or recommending, WCAG 2.0 until its complemented with guidelines about making Flash accessible, making Dom Scripting accessible. I feel I'm left to my own devices on these technologies with WCAG 2. Since we are already left to our own devices now, how is a War and Peace sized abstract recommendation going to improve things?

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