Accessibility, But Not For Users

The recent backlash against the recently released Last Call Working Draft of WCAG 2.0 is a representation of the frustration against it. The general outburst is against the irreverence for Web Standards in the guidelines. Other than that the original document is full of jargon and requires supporting documents (Understanding WCAG 2.0 and Techniques of WCAG 2.0) for full comprehension, it also seems to have lost the focus. In an attempt to incorporate the multitude of technologies playing today on the web, it seems to have gone against he basic purpose of accessibility – accessible to everyone.

Joe Clark has torn apart the guidelines, an output of five year effort by Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI):

In an effort to be all things to all web content, the fundamentals of WCAG 2 are nearly impossible for a working standards-compliant developer to understand. WCAG 2 backtracks on basics of responsible web development that are well accepted by standardistas.

WCAG 2.0 comes out with the concept of baselines. The baselines will be used to convey the necessary technologies to view the website. The onus of making content accessible to everyone has been changed to just declaring the technologies required, which does not guarantee access of content to everyone, but can satisfy the success criteria (a rename of guidelines). Inaccessibility to be compensated by baselines! The result of this is that now we can expect future websites to be completely done in flash without providing alternate content. So, no guarantee that visually challenged users can access websites, or that users without Flash plugins can still use them. Joe Clark discusses the details to respond to WCAG 2.0.

WCAG 2.0 seems to have ignored even the Web Standards. Valid markup is no more a requirement! Instead the suggestion is to make sure that the DOM output is consistent in all the browsers. So, instead of creating a standard interface for valid markup to which both website authors and browsers can comply to, the authors can now use invalid markup but they have to test it against multiple browsers!

In an era of Web 2.0, where more and more focus is on the user, WCAG 2.0 seems to have been written for user agents and devices rather than for the users. It ensures accessibility for these devices, not for the users.

More reading:

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

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