Sucking on WCAG 2.0

Posted on Friday, 6 June 2008 by Steve Faulkner

While at @media I had the opportunity to meet up with Lachlan Hunt, who works at Opera and is a fellow W3C HTML5 working group member. He did a short interview with me for standardssuck.org, asking some questions about WCAG 2.0, the almost minted W3C specification, designed to provide guidance on how to build web sites and web applications that are accessible and usable by people with disabilities. Note: I had limited coherence at this point (at the end of the conference after a few drinks).

Lachlan made reference in his questions to Joe Clark’s criticisms of WCAG 2 in his article, from 2006 – To Hell with WCAG 2 . Below are some comments that Joe made in an interview with Jeremy Keith at @media 2007, after his article was published.

“Now, to their credit, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group read and responded to absolutely every objection to the first draft of WCAG 2. Every single one, they didn’t skip any, and they tried to do something to address all of them… I read the two changes documents, which show that there has been tremendous improvement…”

Interview Transcript

Lachlan:
Hi I’m Lachlan Hunt here for standardssuck.org. (gestures with his fist clenched except for the index and little fingers which are outstretched. ) That’s our sign. I’m here with Steve Faulkner from The Paciello Group, is that right?
Steve:
thats right.
Lachlan:
We’re here to talk about the WCAG 2 specification. So, tell us what is WCAG 2?
Steve:
WCAG 2 is the next generation of the web content accessibility guidelines.
Lachlan:
Okay and what does that involve? well what is accessibility? well what is web accessibility? what is the purpose of these guidelines?
Steve:
To help people make web sites and web applications accessible to people with disabilities. That’s my take on it anyway.
Lachlan:
How has it changed from WCAG 1? Is it an improvement or…
Steve:
Hopefully, it is definitely an improvement, they’ve taken seven years to do it and they have had lots and lots of input from lots and lots of people so hopefully there’s an improvement. The main difference is that it attempts to be a lot more technology neutral and also it attempts to deal with a lot of the issues that are more prevalent today. I mean, the web moved on since – what – it was nine year ago or whatever since they first came out ,1999, and the web has moved on a lot. the way people use the web and interact with the web has moved on and it has to come to terms with those challenges. I think in the end, although it is not a perfect document, there are still issues with it as far as cognitive disabilities are concerned (for example). It’s a big improvement on WCAG 1 and yeah, it contains a lot of good information about how to make web sites and web application accessible, which is what it tries to do.
Lachlan:
OK, Joe Clark wrote an article on a listapart called ‘To Hell with WCAG 2’ a year or two ago and he complained a lot about things in WCAG 2, he said the spec was basically unreadable and didin’t cover all these issues. What was you take on that?
Steve:
Well as i said previously, I think Joe had a lot of good points about the spec at that point, but it went through a couple of ‘last calls’ or whatever they’re called: processes within the W3C where people can, the public can make comment, and there was literally thousands of comments, and the comments that Joe made formed part of that and , one the issues you talked about, the use of language, they really worked on that so it is a lot easier to read. It’s more human readable than it was. I think some of these issues were peripheral or issues that clouded the strengths of the document itself, and once they cleaned those up it shined up quite well.
Lachlan:
OK, Joe also started the WCAG Samuri, shortly after he wrote that article and he has since released a lot of errata for the WCAG 1 specification, what did you think of those? Were they good and what did you think of the way they were developed, in secret?
Steve:
It was all a bit cloak and dagger, I mean, it was dramatic wasn’t it? A certain drama and melodrama about the whole thing. The resulting document was quite interstesting, there are a lot of good points, but I think, in a way, it has not had a huge impact, because it was a document that was developed outside the W3C and for better or worse the W3C has some credibility as far as these things are concerned and governments  and corporations around the world tend to take the WCAG guidelines as a benchmark, where as something such as the WCAG samuri may contain interesting or good information, is not going to be taken on as a benchmark. Where as I think, again WCAG 2 will.
Lachlan:
OK thanks steve, it has been a pleasure talking to you.
Steve:
Is that it?
Lachlan:
You’ve got more to say?
Steve:
Yes, i would like to say, it has been great to meet Lachlan in person, and its’s nice to be with a fellow Australian.
Lachlan:
Hey I forgot to say, we are here in London at the @media conference, yeah I met up with him yersterday and we decided to do this, so hope you enjoyed it. This has been Lachlan Hunt and Steve faulkner for StandardsSuck.org (makes the standardssuck gesture with hand).
Steve:
See Ya! (makes incorrect gesture with hand, three middle fingers extended) Oye, (then makes correct gesture).

 Further Reading:

Further Listening:

The eminent Patrick Lauke talks in depth about WCAG 2.

About Steve Faulkner

Steve is the Technical Director at TPG. He joined The Paciello Group in 2006 and was previously a Senior Web Accessibility Consultant at vision australia. He is the creator and lead developer of the Web Accessibility Toolbar accessibility testing tool. Steve is a member of several groups, including the W3C Web Platforms Working Group and the W3C ARIA Working Group. He is an editor of several specifications at the W3C including HTML 5.1, ARIA in HTML, Notes on Using ARIA in HTML and HTML5: Techniques for providing useful text alternatives. He also develops and maintains HTML5accessibility.

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