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.
Matthew Magain is a UX designer with over 15 years of experience creating exceptional digital experiences for companies such as IBM, Australia Post, and sitepoint.com. He is the co-founder of UX Mastery, and recently co-authored Everyday UX, an inspiring collection of interviews with some of the best UX Designers in the world.