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What Follows WCAG 2.0

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012  Return to Logical Structures  Skip to the Brain Teaser!

Graph showing volume of Google searches for WCAG since 2007. The graph trends down after an initial spike.

Searches for “WCAG” since 2007.
Source: Google Trends 

It’s three and a half years since WCAG 2.0 became final in December, 2008. Have you implemented WCAG 2.0 on your website? To which Level?

The market is speaking. WCAG 2.0 has certainly raised consciousness about online accessibility, but there’s also little question that uptake is less than satisfactory. There are almost no “WCAG 2.0 conformance claims” out there, even though you’d think, after all that work, people would want to mention it (we do). The only adoptees of any significance I’ve been able to find based on my relatively casual searches are government agencies (mostly stated as goals and objectives rather than accomplishments), activists, WCAG promoters and developers.

I’ve been asking, and the one claimed WCAG 2.0 conforming web store pointed out to me is at the RNIB, for heaven’s sake.

The ecosystem of developers, integrators and consultants doing “content accessibility” is still pitifully small.

Business volume in accessibility is growing, certainly, but WCAG 2.0 isn’t helping except as something that has to be interpreted by a paid professional with incantations and blessings.

It is looking like a set of guidelines that only the government will touch, hesitantly at that, even on their own websites. If there’s some great index of proud companies proclaiming their implementation of some or all of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, even if only for their online shopping carts, I can’t find it.

What’s the problem?

The normative text of WCAG 2.0 offers excellent principles and guidelines, and these may well be applicable across many, most or (maybe) all electronic content technologies. I can’t fault them.

The Success Criteria for the guidelines, however, leave much to be desired from an implementation standpoint. They are great in many cases but highly susceptible to interpretation on key points in others, and loose. Or not! It’s so hard to tell.

Let’s try a simple WCAG 2.0 Brain Teaser. I suspect there are thousands of developers who’ve asked themselves similar questions before deciding to do something else, but this one struck me as interesting on several levels.

Does it Conform to WCAG 2.0? To Which Level, if Any?

This is a Mark 1 WCAG 2.0 Brain Teaser, use at your own risk! (permalink) Here are the questions.

An HTML example showing illogical heading levels. A font-size change makes an H3 render like an H2.

NOTE: For simplicity’s sake, assume (per the arrow in the image) that the site’s CSS has the default <H2> assigned to a font-size of 16 points, but is otherwise the same as the body text.

If you want to run the code in your preferred browser or AT, the plain-text version follows.

<h1>Fruit</h1>
<h3><span style=”font-size: 16pt;”>Fiji</span></h3>
<p>We have lovely apples.</p>
<h3>Macintosh</h3>
<h2>Pears</h2>
<p>Our pears are great!</p>
<h3>Basque</h3>
<p>The Basque Pear is best.</p>

Brain Teaser Questions

I recommend for maximum effect that you take these questions in the order indicated, but you can do whatever you want. Or, do something else, because this is going to hurt.

  1. Does the HTML example in the brain teaser conform to WCAG 2.0 guidelines Level A, AA or AAA, or does it fail Level A in at least one way?
  2. How do the WCAG 2.0 guidelines help you figure this out? Example: for SC 1.3.1 there’s Technique H42, Example 2. Does this Technique mean that the brain teaser conforms to WCAG 2.0?
  3. Are either, neither or both of Success Criteria 1.3.1 and/or 2.4.3 (both Level A) violated in this example?
  4. Is SC 2.4.6 invoked? Does the brain teaser conform to this Success Criterion?
  5. Can this brain teaser actually conform to SC 1.3.1 and SC 2.4.3 without also conforming to SC 2.4.10 (Level AAA) and probably, SC 2.4.6 as well. What does that mean?
  6. Does the in-line font-size change get the author off the hook because you’d claim they made the H3 into an H2 and thus “conveyed through presentation”?
  7. What’s the simplest, easiest and profoundly the only right way to make this lame excuse for content tolerably accessible (assuming you agree that it’s wrong as-is). HINT: Just add a single word, no other changes required.
  8. Is the interpretation problem (if you agree there’s a problem) due to lack of Techniques, or collisions between the Success Criteria themselves? Or maybe you are just rolling your eyes.

So go ahead and leave a comment (it’s not a great form, sorry) with your opinion on how this brain teaser does or does not conform to WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Or maybe you don’t think it’s a brain teaser at all, perhaps the answers are obvious? I’d love to know.

Proposed, to follow WCAG 2.0

Truly, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines are great, this (or other) brain teasers notwithstanding, and developers can get a lot out of them. By themselves, however, and even with their “Techniques”, WCAG 2.0 guidelines are not adequate technical definitions for accessibility in all technologies.

Here is my idea of what is essential to big-picture normative solutions to electronic content accessibility, including web accessibility.

Integrate and guide normative technical accessibility standards as they emerge.

True technology independence means understanding that for broad effect the next-generation content accessibility guidelines must consist of principles, not technical statements. The guidelines should facilitate the development of compatible technical standards, not supplant them.

The fact that many entities mistake WCAG 2.0 Techniques for “normative” in themselves, the WAI’s evident protestations to the contrary, is evidence that technical standards are required beyond WCAG 2.0.

If any guidelines of whatever version are to ever apply outside the “web context” or (frankly) succeed within they will do so according to the extent to which true technology independence is achieved. The highest purpose of content accessibility guidelines is to make it easier to write, quality-control, promote and deliver technology standards more quickly.

What about your ideas?

Got other ideas? Let me know what you think, go ahead and leave a Comment on this post.

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