WCAG 2.0: Woeful to Wonderful in One Easy Draft?

Posted May 25th, 2007 by Jack Pickard

Well, when I commented on the previous draft of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) for Accessites, it was definitely sitting closer to the ‘woeful’ category, and I was perfectly willing to tell them so. That was a year ago. They’ve since had ample time to work on it and improve matters. The question is, have they?

Judy Brewer, in an interview with the The Web Standards Project (WaSP), said:

…you’ll be seeing significant changes in the upcoming Working Draft. We want people to take a good look at this one when it comes out, and let us know what you think. Judy Brewer in WaSP interview

Well, I have, and I will.

The two main criticisms that were leveled against the previous version were that the documentation was too wordy and was also bordering on incomprehensible. Taken as a whole, the documentation still comes to a sliver under 200,000 words, so it might still seem somewhat daunting.

However, to suggest that anyone has to read the whole documentation to use it is a fallacy: with WCAG 1.0 the checklist of checkpoints was referred to most, and then links from this to the supporting documents were followed if more information was needed.

The nearest equivalent to this for WCAG 2.0 is probably the WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference Document, which still comes to a rather hefty 14,700 words. Fortunately, however, this document is set up so that by changing the options at the top, you can rule out criteria that do not apply (e.g. if you don’t use multimedia, you can hide the features that relate to this).

Okay, it’s still some size, but unlike the WCAG 1.0 checkpoints, this also includes lists of common failures against the checkpoints, as well as techniques to ensure that the checkpoints — whoops, sorry, success criteria — have been passed. It’s therefore directly comparable to the WCAG 1.0 list of checkpoints with added cross-references.

This quick reference document will therefore serve as the primary document for my review, once I got past some of the other changes. Note that it’s not possible to cover everything in the document: I’ve tried to pick out a few things — hopefully representative — to give a ‘flavour’ of each section.

Principles, Techniques and Conformance

If you’ve read any of the documentation relating to WCAG 2.0 before, this section might not seem entirely new, but there are still some changes between this draft and the last one, so it’s probably worth reading anyway. If WCAG 2.0 is new to you, then this will serve to highlight some of the major differences…

First, the WCAG 2.0 are based upon 4 POUR (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust) principles:

  • Content must be Perceivable
  • Content must be Operable
  • Content must be Understandable
  • Content must be Robust

Within each of these principles, you have guidelines. Within each guideline, you have success criteria (née checkpoints). Unlike the WCAG 1.0 checkpoints, each of the WCAG 2.0 success criteria have been specifically designed to be testable.

Each guideline then has levels — the traditional A, AA and AAA — within which may exist various success criteria. It is possible for a higher level success criterion to be a stronger version of one found at a lower level, and equally it is possible that a particular guideline might not have success criteria at each level.

The success criteria that you have to use will depend upon the accessibility-supported technologies that you are using. HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) count as accessibility-supported technologies: they are widely available and have accessibility support in many native user agents. Other technologies which are supported by widely available plug-ins would also qualify, but if you’re planning on producing your own encoding system accompanied by your own browser, don’t expect this to qualify.

Any information or functionality that is implemented in technologies that are not accessibility supported must also be available via technologies that are accessibility supported. WCAG 2.0 (1)

It’s worth noting that this also allows for closed environments (such as corporate intranets) to rely on technologies which aren’t necessarily widely availably or accessibility-supported elsewhere provided that they are widely available and accessibility-supported within that closed environment.

There’s also an important distinction made between individual web content pages and pages used as part of a process:

Example: an online store has a series of pages that are used to select and purchase products. All pages in the series from start to finish (checkout) must conform in order to claim conformance for any page that is part of the sequence. WCAG 2.0 (2)

In the previous draft of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, it must be noted that in order to achieve the AAA (highest) level of conformance, you had to pass all of the success criteria at level A and AA, but only half of the relevant success criteria at level AAA. This has now changed to be more like WCAG 1.0: you must pass all of the conformance criteria to comply with that particular level.

Under WCAG 1.0, once you’d achieved conformance, you just had to stick a little icon on your page somewhere showing your conformance level (or more usually the conformance level you mistakenly believed you’d reached). WCAG 2.0 handles conformance claims very differently.

In order to make a conformance claim you must now specify:

  • The date of the claim
  • The guidelines, version and Uniform Resource Locator (URL)
  • The conformance level satisfied
  • A description of the scope of the claim (e.g. the whole site, which parts, any exclusions)
  • The accessibility-supported technologies your claim relies upon

Note that ‘relies upon’ isn’t the same as ‘uses’. You can use whatever other technologies you like providing that your site is still accessible to a visitor at the same conformance level even if they don’t support technologies you use but don’t ‘rely upon’. Get it?

They then go on to suggest that you may also wish to list further things — other success criteria you’ve passed, other technologies you use, any additional steps you’ve taken to enhance accessibility and so on. As none of this is mandatory and is probably of very little benefit to any site visitor (see showing web accessibility statements the door — or not, as noted in this counterpoint), I wouldn’t put in anything that’s not mandatory.

For Web 2.0 technologies (i.e. those things with actual user interaction as opposed to “stuff with rounded corners”), there is an awareness that not all of the content is within the user’s control: comments on blog sites and similar are frequently outside the user’s control. The Working Group have arrived at the idea of a Partial Conformance Claim to cater for these:

A “statement of partial conformance” is made. A statement that the page does not conform, but could conform if certain parts were removed can be made. The form of that statement would be, “This page would conform to WCAG 2.0 at level X if the following parts from uncontrolled sources were removed.” WCAG 2.0 (3)

These changes from WCAG 1.0 are very significant and show a marked improvement in this version of the document. This documentation is much clearer than previously (the previously incomprehensible “web units” being replaced by the common-sense “web pages”) and provided a very good shot at allowing WCAG 2.0 to function as a consistent, enforceable and technologically independent set of accessibility guidelines.

So, the quality and clarity of the documentation has improved — for which I’d like to nominate the Working Group for a well deserved pat on the back — but what about the Success Criteria themselves?

Continuation of Article Pages: 1 2 3

26 Responses to: “WCAG 2.0: Woeful to Wonderful in One Easy Draft?”

  1. Mel Pedley responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 5:33 am

    It certainly looks as if a great deal of the feedback on last year’s draft has had a positive effect. Whilst I’d agree that the current draft isn’t perfect (and probably never will be), it is beginning to look as the Working Group is in the right road to creating a usable, practical, set of guidelines.

    The current deadline for submitting comments on the WCAG 2.0 Last Call Working Draft is 29 June 2007. The feedback from last year’s draft seems to have had a real positive effect. Let’s not let the opportunity to comment on this draft slip away either.

  2. patrick h. lauke responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 5:39 am

    nice write-up. i’m currently on the last few pages of the appendix (only reading through the core WCAG 2.0 document, not the associated techniques etc) myself, and will soon be sending my comments off.

    on the issue of “having complete start and end tags” … that whole thing just sounds awkward in the guidelines. you can tell they tried to carefully pussy-foot around the issue without saying “valid”…but by doing so, they’ve come up with something that seems very (X)HMTL specific. what i’ll be proposing is something more along the lines of: “must be well formed and follow the language’s syntax rules” (as “well formed”, i.e. following syntax, does not necessarily mean “valid”).

  3. goetsu responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 5:51 am

    I am totaly agree with you, this version was a major improvement, wcag 2 or now understandable. But, i think there is still mistake, lake or change that need to be made on the technique and Understanding Success Criterion document. Particulary, i think that guideline 3 and 4 need a lot more of exemple and failure exemple.

  4. Clive Walker responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 7:43 am

    In order to get web designers/developers on board with the WCAG 2 guidelines, I think the checkpoint document has to be much shorter. The current version may be OK for a large web design company who can spend time and resources on this, but for the smaller company or freelancer, it has to be easily assimilated. The WCAG 1 document is very good for this. The WCAG 2 document is likely to put people off in my opinion [even if it can be shortened using the options you describe]. This applies particularly to non-experts who would like to learn more about accessibility and want to do better.

  5. John Faulds responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 8:40 am

    I agree with Clive. I don’t have time to try and digest all the guidelines myself at the moment so the best I can do is keep an eye out for summaries like this one. Thanks, Jack! ;)

  6. Noemi responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Thanks for putting together this great write-up. I’d seen a lot of the criticisms of the working draft, and was ready to dismiss the present document as well, but now I’m re-thinking it.

    Here’s a question for those who have actually read the document: does it contain any recommendations or requirements beyond the accessibility best-practices that have been circulated in the web standards community for the past few years?

    By the way, there are a lot of gremlins in the text-only version of this article, at least in Firefox on WinXP.

  7. Mike Cherim responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 9:08 am

    @Clive: Good point. Make it too daunting and people will run away, especially the little guys who see it from an ant’s perspective.

    It is a step in the right direction, though, better than before, and thanks to Jack’s hard work in writing this up, it seems more palatable than it previously did.

    @Noemi: Thanks, I’ll get out my gremlin swatter.

    Update: Gotta love “Find and Replace.” The text version gremlins have been swatted :)

  8. Respiro, the logo design guy responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Great article! Thanks! :)

  9. Paul Armstrong responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 9:26 am

    You’re complaining about the length of the WCAG documents?

    And just how many words is this THREE PAGE post??? 4000+? That’s longer than most University-level essays.

  10. Grant Broome responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Lovely post Jack, good level of detail as always.

    No more ‘web units’ eh? That’s the best thing I’ve heard for weeks. Who’s crumby idea was that in the first place. I feel inclined to take another look at the guidelines now after previously writing them off Joe Clark stylee. This post has addressed the major concerns, thanks for taking the time Jack.

  11. Henny responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for the write up, really useful. I agree that you can read WCAG 2.0 in a way that works best for you and not necessarily all at once. The Quick Reference document also seems like to good way in especially as you can make it yopur own by customising it.

    I posted about in the RNIB Blog a couple of days ago which I hope people will find useful.

  12. Joe Clark responds:
    Posted: May 25th, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    “Click here” and “more” as link text are explicitly permitted.

    Defying document semantics and the document tree just because somebody’s toy can mix and match headings is not equivalent to “accessibility,” and if convenience features were the threshold, who knows what else would get in there.

  13. links for 2007-05-26 « Richard@Home responds:
    Posted: May 26th, 2007 at 12:19 am

    […] WCAG 2.0: Woeful to Wonderful in One Easy Draft? - Accessites.org Accessites looks at the latest WCAG with a favourable report. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s definitely progressing in the right direction. (tags: accessibility wcag) […]

  14. Wild Ted responds:
    Posted: May 26th, 2007 at 2:31 am

    Great write up, for which many thanks.

    Just one small point on “click here” and “more” as link text.

    Whatever the accessibility rights or wrongs, “click here” and “more” are search engine optimisation opportunities gone begging. However, if you use link text such a “more on hot topic 1″ and hide all but the word “more” offscreen with CSS you will keep both Google and JAWS users happy.

  15. Web Community seems a Little More Positive on the Latest WCAG 2.0 Draft « Oatmeal Stout - Justin Thorp’s Web 2.0 blog responds:
    Posted: May 26th, 2007 at 11:52 am

    […] There has also been a bit of positive feedback. Jack Pickard wrote the following… It’s usable, it’s a vast improvement on the previous draft, and it’s an improvement on WCAG 1.0 as well. […]

  16. goetsu responds:
    Posted: May 27th, 2007 at 6:14 am

    by the way, about the text resize criteria, read carfuly the suffisent technique and you will see you can perfectly still use pixel text-size just because ie7 and opera have a zoom mode (to break the opera’s zoom, good luke) or just because you use font-size widget in pure javascript on your page.

  17. » WCAG 2.0 Working Draft May 2007: A closer look responds:
    Posted: May 28th, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    […] You don’t have to wait until I manage to read it, understand it, and write something about my opinion on it though. Jack Pickard has already done that work, and presents his verdict in WCAG 2.0: Woeful to Wonderful in One Easy Draft?, an article split into three pages (WCAG is a large document, so commenting on it may require using quite a few words after all). […]

  18. Jared Smith responds:
    Posted: May 29th, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    With a write-up like that, who needs to read the guidelines?!? Of course we all do, but this write-up is excellent for anyone not already familiar with the guidelines.

    I personally don’t think validity goes any further beyond this remit than robustness does — as robustness with future user agents has little to do with current accessibility, but does have a lot to do with validity.

    That there is about the most witty thing I’ve ever read and pretty much sums up the entire validity argument. It’s interesting that you have been swayed on this regard. But with logic as clear as you present it, I think more people will understand why validity might not be best implemented in WCAG.

  19. Gregg Vanderheiden responds:
    Posted: May 31st, 2007 at 12:49 am

    Thanks everyone. We are looking for your comments and input on the new draft. What you like and what you don’t.

    A couple of documents that are helpful in reviewing the newest draft and seeing what changed and why.

    1) A document that highlights the changes in WCAG 2.0 along with context is now available. It is at http://www.w3.org/WAI/GL/2007/05/change-summary.

    The major overall changes are discussed up front along with rationale. Then it goes through each success criterion that has changed and lists the changes. The document length issue is one topic discussed.

    2) An improved Quick Reference now allows you more flexibility for including just the information you would like.

    Use the customization feature at the top to have only the information you would like shown. The Quick Reference will vary in length from just a few pages on up depending on how little or how much information you want included.


    Looking forward to hearing what you like and any issues you see.


  20. Robert Wellock responds:
    Posted: June 1st, 2007 at 10:07 am

    The Quick Reference seems a little wordy in places and also appears to be contradicting itself in certain paragraphs or that maybe it is just the fuzzy-wording.

  21. ThePickards » Blog Archive » WCAG 2.0: The Next Draft responds:
    Posted: June 2nd, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    […] As the more astute of you will have noticed, I have already commented on the latest draft of WCAG 2.0 having written a review of WCAG 2.0 for Accessites just over a week ago. Why not pop over there to read it if you haven’t already? […]

  22. WCAG: Recomendaciones de accesibilidad « Soldat’s log responds:
    Posted: June 10th, 2007 at 3:16 am

    […] Pues bien, a mediados del mes pasado la W3C publicó el nuevo borrador de la WCAG 2.0, esta vez con mejores críticas (WCAG 2.0: Woeful to Wonderful in One Easy Draft?), y hace un par de días se publicó la primera edición de WCAG Samurai Errata for WCAG 1.0. […]

  23. A review of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, May 2007 Working Draft - The Web Standards Project responds:
    Posted: June 11th, 2007 at 8:40 am

    […] Jack Pickard, WCAG 2.0: Woeful to Wonderful in One Easy Draft? […]

  24. WebAIM: Blog - WCAG 2.0 - Polishing the rough edges responds:
    Posted: June 27th, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    […] I am not intimately familiar with WCAG 2.0. I’ve followed its development and was even accepted at one time as a WCAG working group member, although I’ve ashamedly never really participated. So, I am mostly looking at WCAG 2.0 from an outsider’s perspective. As such, many of my concerns may be entirely due to misunderstanding the language or structure of the guidelines themselves. Yet if I have encountered such misinterpretations, it’s quite likely that someone less familiar with accessibility will have them also. Jack Pickard has written an excellent writeup on WCAG 2.0. I almost entirely agree with his conclusions (particularly those surrounding validity) and will not address the specific issues that he has brought up. […]

  25. Search Engine Optimization » Blog Archive » A review of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, May 2007 Working Draft responds:
    Posted: July 6th, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    […] Jack Pickard, WCAG 2.0: Woeful to Wonderful in One Easy Draft? […]

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