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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Web Accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act

It seems that lawsuits over in-accessible commercial websites are becoming less uncommon. The outcome of these lawsuits (and the subsequent appeals) will determine if the Americans with Disabilities Act will be enforced in the field of web accessibility. Currently there are a variety of governmental policies related to accessibility, but the outcome of the Target lawsuit will set the stage for the future.

Many web development “professionals” don’t give topics like accessibility (or standards compliance) the attention they deserve. (If you’re wondering why I stuck professionals in quotes, the article A web professional never stops learning may shed some light on the subject.) I’ve found that many people in the business world don’t understand the importance of standards compliance and accessibility in website development. They simply go for the “best” (cheapest, easiest, and fastest) solution without realizing that they’re being cheated; all they end up with is a poorly engineered site that eventually needs to be replaced. Web developers need to educate each other about the necessity of good development practices, and then they need to educate their clients (and potential clients).

posted by Zach at 8:55 pm  

Sunday, September 2, 2007

WCAG 2.0

There have been a variety of articles floating around (some for quite a while now) about WCAG 2.0 discussing a variety of issues with the guidelines. In reading those (and the draft guidelines), I’ve formulated some of my own opinions about the guidelines.

But first, some background. In the late ’90s, the W3C created a new working group, the WCAG WG, as part of the WAI. The WCAG WG was tasked with the creation of the WCAG, a set of tiered guidelines for web developers to use to ensure the accessibility of their content. The first version of these guidelines, know as the WCAG 1.0, were completed in mid 1999. A year and a half later, in early 2001, development began on what would come to be the WCAG 2.0. Work on these guidelines continued through early 2007, when a “final working draft” (basically what is intended as the final version before submission for approval) of the guidelines was released. It was met, to put it mildly, with wide criticism and, to put it more realistically, outrage. That brings us right up to around now. Amazing how history works.

And now, my opinion on the matter. In order for the WCAG to be of any use, they (the guidelines) need to do four things (some of these things they do, others they don’t):

  • Be guidelines
  • Address accessibility in a clear way (be accessible themselves)
  • Be useful
  • Be broad, but not too broad

Be guidelines

Guidelines are not rules. They do not need to be enforceable. They should serve as suggestions for ways to improve the accessibility of web content. (What a crazy idea; the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines should be guidelines about the accessibility of web content!)

Address accessibility in a clear way

Accessibility is what Accessibility Guidelines should be about. That should be the main criterion for inclusion of a checkpoint (or whatever term is deemed most appropriate) not whether it shifts the balance of the document to specific disabilities or whether it can’t be easily tested.

The guidelines also need to be kept to a reasonable length. 10% of the current size (~50 pages) would be more reasonable than the the current size (~500 pages), which few people will ever read (I’m trying to wade my way through them, although it may take a while).

Be useful

There needs to be a big push made to educate those in fields dealing with the creation of web content about the existence about the WCAG and the WCAG needs to be in a format that is useful to them (see the discussion of length above). The idea of companion documents is a noble one, but it has created far too much (and sometimes contradictory) material.

Be broad but not too broad

They need to be technology independent. They really do, but they can’t be so broad as to cover absolutely every detail of everything (see the discussion of length in “Address accessibility in a clear way” above). Accessibility isn’t something that varies from one web medium to another, so why should the guidelines? One of the most popular arguments against technology independence is that more useful guidelines can be created in a technology specific document. Maybe we do need technology specific clarifications, but that isn’t the purpose of the WCAG. It’s purpose should simply be to address the accessibility of all web content in a clear, concise way.

Some of the “variety of articles” I mentioned:

posted by Zach at 1:10 pm  

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