What’s new in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
Last December, at last, W3C published the final release of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
It took five years to create this new version, and now that it is out, there are many questions regarding this new version. I will try to cover the main issues and questions I’m getting from clients and colleagues, and I’ll be happy to add some more, if you have any (just, send me a line, or add it in the comments).
Why do we need the new version?
Well, that is the first question that usually rises. The answer for that is very simple – evolution. The first version WCAG was published on 1999. The web had gone a long way since those days. The technology changed. People had changed.
In 1999, the Internet was a network to exchange data, and to entertain yourself. Today, you can do almost anything over the Internet:buying groceries, paying you bills, rent a movie, and so on and so forth.
The Internet became a tool for people. It is even more effective for people with disabilities. Consider how difficult and even dangerous for a blind person to go to his bank, compared to the option of communicating with his bank entirely from his home and seat.
The technology today allows all that. Furthermore, web technology advanced so greatly, so some of the old guidelines just weren’t possible to implement.As an example, take guideline 6.3: “Ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported.”, how can you have a Dot.Net application with out scripts to do the post backs?!
The new structures
If you read WCAG 1.0, you probably remember the old structure: there where three levels of compliance, each with several guidelines, and you could filter the guidelines to see only the level you wanted.
The new structure is different. There are now 4 categories of compliance, and 12 guidelines (in all 4 categories all together) with 3 success criteria for each guideline.
The 4 different categories, are:
From the original document: “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
Meaning that parts of your page should be viewable to people, no matter what user agent they are using, and no mater what sense are they using (i.e. using their ears, instead of their eyes, to “read” you page).
The success criteria you will find here are about text alternatives, about time limited media, captions, etc.
From the original document: “User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
This category is about how users will work with your site; how will they navigate, etc.
The meaning here is that users should be able to operate the site no matter what technology they are using.
In this category you will find guidelines and success criteria regarding keyboard operation and keyboard traps, time limited responses, etc.
From the original document: “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable”
Meaning that user must understand what they read on your page, and must understand how to operate the site. As an example, if you’re using a special button to log-off, it must be designed so people understand that this is the log-off button.
You will find here criteria about the use of jargon (words or expressions used by a particular profession or group), about languages, and so on.
From the original document: “Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies”.
This part is something that was too vague in WCAG 1.0: the meaning here is that your site needs to remain accessible even if technology changes. I.e., if technology now offers AJAX, you should keep a version that doesn’t use AJAX, if your AJAX framework isn’t accessible.
There is only one guideline here, which basically says that you need to be as compatible with current user agents as possible. It also says that you need to be as compatible as possible with future user agents.Which basically means that you should know the future…
There are number of new guidelines in the new version. You can use Comparison of WCAG 1.0 checkpoints to WCAG 2.0 to check what’s new (it is in the end of the page).
Some of the new items added are (re-phrased):
- Validation errors should be text only or with text alternatives, not just sound or color.
- Text’s images, or any other representation of texts, should have a text only alternatives.
- Pages, frames, and so on, should have a title.
- Background noises can be turned off permanently.
Some guidelines were removed in the new versions. Some of those are important and it’s a shame that they were removed.
Some examples of what were removed:
- No need to create documents that validate to standards.
- Using tables for layouts is now allowed (note that it is “tables” and not “table”).
- You can use text images.
- No need to split large chunks of content into smaller units.
There are a few more, but I think those four are the most crucial (in my opinion).
Is it better?
I think this is the biggest question.
The answer is basically “yes and no”.
It really depends who you ask. Joe Clark wrote an article a couple of years ago - “To Hell with WCAG 2” - that really summarizes the bad things about WCAG 2.0. If you into accessibility, you should read it.
Another article “WCAG 2.0: The new W3C accessibility guidelines evaluated” (from WebCredible) discuss in more details what is new, what is good and what is bad in WCAG 2.0.
The main point with WCAG 2.0, is that it didn’t become any more easier to read it. The documents spread over 200 pages and more. It is really difficult for the average developer to find exactly what he needs to make his code accessible.
Furthermore, the test it self is really hard to understand, or even just to read, with all the links inside of it.
it is better, however, in the fact that some obsolete guidelines were removed, and some new ones added to reflect some of the new technology. It is also more technology-independent, so technologies which couldn’t be accessible before (such as Flash) are now accessible.
Are there still 3 levels of conformance?
Yes there are, but not in the same sense as it was before.
Actually this is one of the good parts in WCAG 2. In the old version, some guidelines where on level AA or AAA simply because they were a little bit to difficult to implement. The compliance level, made developers ignore them completely, leaving some crucial functionality not accessible (i.e. images’ contrast).
In the new version, the compliance level is more of “Accessible”, “More Accessible”, “Best Accessibility”.
This way, developers might just take a look to see what is required to be a little bit better, and might just implement it.
What version should I refer to?
Well, if you are just writing your site now, or just upgrading it now, refer to WCAG 2 solely. When your site will be checked, it will be checked using this version.
How ever, you should also be familier with the old version. Keep in mind that this version is still new, not many people knows it as well as the old one.
and basically speaking, it doesn’t really matter which version. After all accessibility is for the people and not just to fulfill a checklist.
Is my site still accessible?
Probably yes. If you wrote your site according to WCAG 1.0, it will be accessible according to WCAG 2.0.
You might need to re-check. And you will probably want to check if some things that you couldn’t do before, are now possible, with the new guidelines.
Read more about it