Usability and accessibility in 2006

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Happy New Year and a successful 2006 to all my readers.

Having recently set up the new Accessibility Practice at Bloor it seems only right that I should stick my neck out and make some predictions for 2006.

WCAG 2.0 and ATAG 2.0 will become W3C recommendations by the end of the year

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) published new working drafts of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) and the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (ATAG 2.0) in November 2005. These are very well crafted documents and should go through to Last Call Working Drafts and then to W3C recommendations during the year.

I have reviewed the drafts and would recommend them as background reading to anyone researching web accessibility or planning to implement an accessible site. They are better structured than WCAG 1.0 and therefore easier to understand and that makes it easier to implement compliant sites. The companion document ‘Understanding WCAG 2.0′, although incomplete, will become the entry point for accessibility and shows great promise.

At least one household name will drive a marketing campaign around accessibility and usability

This year a household name will upgrade its web site to meet all the WAI guidelines. The new functionality will be used to aggressively push both usability, implying better customer service, as well as accessibility for all, to show the company’s social responsibility.

At least one household name will be sued for failing to comply

The Disability Discrimination Act was strengthened in 2005. Even though the changes did not change the law regarding web sites I believe it has highlighted the shortcoming in current web sites. This will be the impetus for disabled people to stand up and demand full access to web sites particularly in the banking, retail and travel industries. At least one of these will go to court. I suspect that the case will be settled out of court with the enterprise in question promising a rapid improvement to the site. This will push the usability and accessibility issues up to board level in other similar companies.

User testing for usability and accessibility will grow rapidly

I am a great believer in automated testing tools for two reasons. If a site fails the automated tests it is by definition not fully accessible so it is a good first test. If a site that has been shown, by user testing, to conform then automated tests of modifications to the site are an excellent indication of its continuing conformance. However, a site that came top of a recent Sitemorse Report was far from conformant as a brief eyeball review showed me. This shows up the need for user testing as well as automated testing and therefore there will be a significant growth in the supply of user testing. Much of this will be provided by small specialist consultancy firms but 2006 will see the beginning of accessibility practices in the large firms as well.

One vendor will deliver a development environment that produces conformant sites by default

The biggest problem for webmasters at the moment is that the tools available do not make it easy enough to develop compliant sites. In my investigations so far I have not come across a complete web site development environment that leads the author to produce compliant code by default. I am hopeful that one will come my way in 2006.

PDF documents will become a major bug bear in 2006

Much of the content on the web is now delivered in PDF. It needs to be accessible as well. In theory this is possible but creating compliant documents is a painful process. I have been trying to create some small compliant documents recently and the tools I have tried are far from intuitive, in fact they are so far from intuitive that I have so far failed. It is certain that until the tools improve, PDF files will be produced that do not comply and therefore will be the bane of the webmaster’s life.