WCAG 2.0 is broken–leave your comments now!

Matthew Magain
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Last night’s presentation by Gian Sampson-Wild at the Melbourne Web Standards Group meeting about version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines brought home for me just how much of a step backwards for the Web this document is. If the current working draft were to replace WCAG 1.0 as a W3C-approved recommendation, then a lot of the hard work that every web designer or developer who has spent any time learning, promoting or building accessible sites will be undone.

Due to various politics, in-fighting and corporate pandering, key elements that the web community had hung their hopes on–like validity–have been simply omitted from WCAG 2.0; under the guise of being future-proofed, the document is non-technology specific and instead relies on jargon and ambiguous terminology that keeps getting redefined; it encourages the use of a baseline (meaning that a site could simply announce “sorry, this site is only accessible to Flash users” and still pass the WCAG checkpoints–sorry, success criteria); it treads carefully around the unavoidable overlap of usability (to its detriment); and it omits key aspects of accessibility issues encountered by users with cognitive learning disabilities.

In short, this document is supposed to replace the existing guidelines and move the Web forward in a way that encourages creating accessible sites; in its current form it seems to try and do everything but. Joe Clark has thoroughly dissected WCAG 2.0, and his proposal to start an independent working group to try and fix some of the enormous flaws in the document is not just understandable–it may be the only hope left for an accessible Web.

This is the culmination of 5 years of work by the WCAG Working Group, so the W3C is eager to see it finished. The last call for comments is May 31 (yes, that’s only 5 days away), so if you feel strongly that information on the Web should be accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of physical disability, go leave a comment now and let the W3C know that this is not good enough.

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  • http://autisticcuckoo.net/ AutisticCuckoo

    This is, indeed, a big step backwards. I tried to understand the WCAG 2.0 working drafts, but failed, so I didn’t even bother submitting any comments.

    I think there’ll be three camps in the future, when it comes to web accessibility:
    1. Those who stick to WCAG 1.0 because it makes at least some sense.
    2. Those who embrace WCAG 2.0 because it seemingly allows them to use Flash-only sites and still claim AAA compliance.
    3. Those who don’t care about web accessibility at all, never have, and never will.

  • http://www.xhtmlcoder.com/ xhtmlcoder

    This is, indeed, a big step backwards. I tried to understand the WCAG 2.0 working drafts, but failed, so I didn’t even bother submitting any comments.

    You’re not the only one; it is so fragmented and convoluted than even people ‘without disabilities’ cannot grasp which planet they were residing on when they created some of the proposals for WCAG 2.0.

    Result: many knowledgeable people don’t comment or provide a good argument against some of the “claptrap ideas” because they cannot even fully grasp what the draft is really proposing – some of it is very worrying.

  • Stevie D

    WCAG2 seems to be very much focused on allowing people to “tick the right boxes”, without making their site accessible or usable.

    Given what a mess the W3 website is, that shouldn’t really be a surprise! These documents will certainly not be getting the Crystal Mark for Clear English…

    They have downgraded a number of things that any competent web author will know are absolutely essential for accessibility to merely advisory, and filled reams of paper with incomprehensible nonsense about technologies that nobody will ever use. The detail they go into on captions, transcriptions and even sign language versions of multimedia clips is unbelievable.

    I will continue to write websites that are as accessible as I can make them. I don’t care whether they meet these arbitrary and unhelpful guidelines – they are a complete waste of time.

  • Austin Powers

    The only thing this draft does successfully is deteriorate the credibility of WCAG, WAI, and W3C.

    If it passes, I’ll pull the validation badges from my sites.

  • chrisb

    it simply isnt possible to be all things to all people.. some of the terminology demonstrated in the article is appalling – its rare enough I refer to an official document without the whole thing being a joke as it is…

    that being said- having companies recognise standards and implement them, however weak, is possibly better than having standards and them being ignored..

  • guerrila

    chrisb,

    Not if the document is convoluted and requires extra salesmanship to sell an accessible design under the spec.

    Nor if the client will find some vague or ambiguous way to claim that work was not done to spec.

  • chrisb

    I was thinking more along the lines of tool builders creating “accessible” sites by default – good step along the way… If the new spec has been biased towards automatable validation processes, then it equally lends itself towards build tools..

    If the big name companies on the working group dont do anything useful with the new standard after watering it down so far, then it would be a good argument to change the working processes for v3 perhaps

  • Pingback: Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Blog Archive » Accessibility, But Not For Users

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    …and the deadline has been extended again: http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/w3c-wai-ig/2006AprJun/0083.html

  • n

    First time i’ve read the wcag 2.0, I thought I’m reading german or something. I dont claim to speak english fluently, but I never had that much trouble understanding a standart.

    Its like they took out all common names and replaced them with purely artificial terms for what? So in 150 years in future they could apply the same standard to something new? WTF are they thinking? In 5-10 years its all gonna be outdate anyway.

    Accessibility by the way has nothing to do with this document. Its some kind of corporate lawsuite protection initiative. Im telling you, its designed not to embrace accessibility of the web, but rather to create a legal espace for corporations which now can defend themselfs with this “common web standard” against any lawsuite from a disabled person.

    I not anyone else can define ANY baseline. And then whatever I do within it is complient. Yeah right. I define “xmlhttprequest” and here you go – my AJAX is “tripple A” ppl.

    Checkpoints are joke, read 2.5.3 for instance. Think about it.


    For forms that cause legal or financial transactions to occur, that modify or delete data in data storage systems, or that submit test responses, at least one of the following is true:

    1. Actions are reversible.
    2. Actions are checked for input errors before going on to the next step in the process.
    3. The user is able to review and confirm or correct information before submitting it.
    ..

    so all i need to verify if the email mathes the pattern and integer values are not strings and it complies. Yeah right. I put asp.net dynamic validators which use dthml to show a lable which blind ppl will never hear in the reader and her you go – complient site.

    Or take 2.4.1

    “A mechanism is available to bypass blocks of content that are repeated on multiple Web units”

    means literary “any part of layout should have a skip link” because many “blocks of content” can be repeated on multiple web units. Like a sidebar with something on several pages. Yet if I have one page nothing is “repeated on a multiple web units” so I can do whatever I want without any skip links.

    What was wrong with link to a transcript? Now you have to have captions on any video. And i’m tellign you right now that no1 will even bother with captions because creative departments dont want to see videos half covered with text captions.

    Who will ever do “Sign language interpretation is provided for multimedia. ” show me these people? Are this W3C guys for real?

    PS

    wtf does that mean?

    “…If the purpose of non-text content is to confirm that content is being operated by a person rather than a computer, different forms are provided to accommodate multiple disabilities…”

    i can argue that ALL content is operated by a person, since you click and show any page. At the same time I can claim that all content in the world is “operated” by the computer because computers server them.

  • Stevie D

    For forms that cause legal or financial transactions to occur, that modify or delete data in data storage systems, or that submit test responses, at least one of the following is true:

    1. Actions are reversible.
    2. Actions are checked for input errors before going on to the next step in the process.
    3. The user is able to review and confirm or correct information before submitting it.

    That sounds perfectly reasonable. Go with #3 – have a confirmation page before the changes are enacted. They aren’t saying that you have to go through all three points, but that (at least) one of them should be provided to avoid mistakes being made.

  • n

    thats exactly the point. “at least one” means I dont do a thing and go with 2, I “validate” input and I comply.

    I’m telling you, this is a laywer conspiracy to prevent suites against big companies. This number 2 and “at least one” are perfectly possitioned to hide meaning. How can you “check for input errors”? Is it interger or not? Yeh right. Point is now if I check, I DONT HAVE TO allow YOU to review it.

  • chrisb

    I agree with n; Imagine on a banking site where you enter an account number to transfer money to – all the bank has to do is validate that the account number exists. It doesn’t have to confirm the transaction or give you any way to say “oops, didn’t mean that one”

  • http://www.experioronline.com Jenny McDermott

    “…If the purpose of non-text content is to confirm that content is being operated by a person rather than a computer, different forms are provided to accommodate multiple disabilities…”

    I THINK what this refers to is the practice of using a graphic image as a validation mechanism for an input form, to ensure that’s it’s a human filling out the form, rather than an automated bot. I’m not sure how that could be made accessible to a blind person, however. Maybe using a sound file that directs them to press a key when they hear the tone or something.

  • wcag 2.0 skeptic

    I heard Gian present on this issue early this year, and simply put, wcag 2.0 is focused on creating an environment for automated testing of accessibility. If/when the tools exist to ‘tick’ off your site, we are still no closer to a clearer rationale for taking this draft over the current.

    Taking a quick look at the representation on the board, you can see why this is the new direction for 2.0. If you are not happy with this draft, post your comments, and let’s pray the W3C will not ratify…