Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 latest draft

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

On May 17th 2007 the latest Working Draft of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) was published. WCAG 2.0 will replace WCAG 1.0, which was published in 1999.

WCAG 1.0 was an amazing achievement in its day and has been a great assistance to all those concerned with accessibility. The plethora of new technology since ’99 means that some of the recommendations are now not relevant and many technologies are not covered at all. However the biggest problem with WCAG 1.0 to my mind is that it is difficult to understand for anyone coming new to accessibility. We could say that it is not accessible.

The new Guidelines are much more accessible, firstly because they have several introductory documents but mainly because the guidelines and success criteria are built around just four principles. These four principles lay the foundation necessary for anyone to access and use Web content. Anyone who wants to use the Web must have content that is:

  • Perceivable—information and user interface components must be perceivable by users;
  • Operable—user interface components must be operable by users;
  • Understandable—information and operation of user interface must be understandable by users;
  • Robust—content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Under each principle there is a list of guidelines that address the principle. There are a total of 12 guidelines:

  1. Perceivable
    1. Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
    2. Provide synchronized alternatives for multimedia.
    3. Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example spoken aloud, simpler layout, etc.) without losing information or structure.
    4. Make it easier for people with disabilities to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
  2. Operable
    1. Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
    2. Provide users with disabilities enough time to read and use content.
    3. Do not create content that is known to cause seizures.
    4. Provide ways to help users with disabilities navigate, find content and determine where they are.
  3. Understandable
    1. Make text content readable and understandable.
    2. Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
    3. Help users avoid and correct mistakes that do occur.
  4. Robust
    1. Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

That is all you need to understand about WCAG 2.0; the rest, as an ancient Rabbi said, is just commentary. Like any commentary it is vastly longer than the text.

Under each guideline there are more detailed descriptions and justifications of the guidelines; and for each guideline there are success criteria that describe specifically what must be achieved in order to conform to this standard. They are similar to the “checkpoints” in WCAG 1.0. Each success criterion is written as a statement that will be either true or false when specific Web content is tested against it.

All WCAG 2.0 success criteria are written to be testable. While some can be tested by computer programs, others require human testers for part or all of the test. The same results should be obtained with a high level of confidence when people who understand how people with different types of disabilities use the Web test the same content.

Each success criterion for a guideline has a link to the section of the Quick Reference document that provides:

  • Sufficient techniques for meeting the success criterion.
  • Optional advisory techniques.
  • Links to descriptions of the intent of the success criteria, including benefits, and examples.

This structure of: principles, guidelines, success criteria and techniques makes WCAG 2.0 much more readable and understandable.

The developers of the new version should be congratulated. The guidelines are still in draft but I do not think there will be substantive changes in the final version, just some further clarification and explanations. Anyone about to develop an accessible web site should definitely review these guidelines and incorporate them in the development plans.