A few people at the CSUN conference last week commented on the overbearing WCAG 2.0 specs. Many folks agree that WCAG is extremely large and difficult to read (not unlike the HTML5 spec). And especially for accessibility newbies, WCAG can be a difficult place to start.
In a session at CSUN, even the W3C WAI members said that beginners should not read the spec but start with other docs such as How To Meet WCAG2 which pulls the Understanding and Techniques together. The WAI is also working on a “Easy Checks” documents. Here’s a sneak peak to the draft titled Easy Checks – A First Review of Web Accessibility [link updated].
If you are feeling overwhelmed or confused about web accessibility, my advice is this: stick to the basics.
For design, this means not re-inventing HTML elements and behaviors. Particularly form elements, such as re-rendering a select dropdown for the sake of aesthetics. There’s also the horrible trend to make labels appear and function like placeholders.
For development, this means the proper foundational techniques. Namely, the four layers of web development:
- Semantic HTML for content.
- CSS for presentation.
- JS to enhance behavior.
- ARIA to fill any accessibility gaps.
This fun diagram on Flickr helps illustrate this point.
Using the four layers approach encourages the following good practices:
- Separating content from presentation from behavior.
- Maintaining code in external files.
- Adding ARIA only when needed.
If these practices are implemented in a website, it’s well on its way to being accessible.
It was such a relief when WCAG 2.0 became a W3C Recommendation back in December of 2008. But in the fast paced world of the web, nothing stays the same for very long. Even WCAG could use many improvements, especially after over three years. (Time sure flies!)
Jared Smith (@Jared_W_Smith) of WebAIM recently wrote an excellent article WCAG Next which explains some of the top issues and suggests how they can be improved. I pretty much agree with all. Here is a summary:
- Remove the CAPTCHA Exception – should prohibit all CAPTCHA at Level AA.
- Media Guidelines – a few suggestions here plus a recommendation for restructuring.
- Contrast at Level A -minimal contrast requirement needed for Level A.
- Decrease the 200% Text Resizing Requirement -biggest burden of Level AA.
- Clarify Images of Text -this is subjective.
- Specify Mechanisms to Bypass Blocks – add techniques such as skip-to, headings, landmark roles, and others.
- “Can Be Programmatically Determined” -a confusing aspect of page conformance.
- Require Keyboard Focus Indicators at Level A – “There is no reason why this should not be a Level A requirement.” Totally!
- Remove Parsing Requirement – no direct benefit and difficult to test for accessibility; possibly move code validation requirement to Level AAA.
Cognitive accessibility is closely tied to WCAG 2.0 Principle 3: Understandable which states that “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable”. (WebAIM does a great job in explaining what Cognitive Disabilities actually are.) The guidelines under this principle are:
- Guideline 3.1 Readable: Make text content readable and understandable.
- Guideline 3.2 Predictable: Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Guideline 3.3 Input Assistance: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
There’s been an increase in articles about cognitive accessibility which is great because it’s the most difficult and typically least discussed. Here’s a great list of them below. Feel free to comment with any that were missed.
- Cognitive Accessibility Online (Yahoo)
- Cognitive Disabilities and the Web: Where Accessibility and Usability Meet?
- Cognitive accessibility testing
- Supporting comprehension for everyone
- Cognitive Web Accessibility Assessment: First Attempt, Part 1 of 3 (Clear Helper)
- 10 Organizations That Promote Cognitive Web Accessibility (Clear Helper)
- Plain Language dot gov
- How the cloud can improve the lives of those with cognitive disabilities
- Web accessibility for cognitive disabilities and learning difficulties (Dev.Opera)
A super special podcast:
- First time face-to-face recording between Dennis and Ross.
- In Santa Cruz, California.
- 4-Year Anniversary for Web Axe.
- Affordable niche advertising!
- Web Axe Nominated in 2009 .net Awards (twice!)
- Accessible Twitter winner of the the ACCESS-IT 2009 awards.
- Are PDFs More Important Than Web Accessibility?
- Interview with Jamie Knight: autism and accessible web design
- HTML5 Canvas element and Accessibility
- Google Chrome Frame – accessibility black hole
If a page is viewed through Google Chrome Frame in Internet Explorer no content is available to the user of assistive technology (AT). This can be illustrated using the Microsofts accexplorer tool.
- Attended OpenWebCamp at Stanford
- Fall Web Accessibility Events
- Two Free Events in October
- An Event Apart, San Francisco 2009
- Future of Web Design 2009 NYC
WCAG 2: Remember P.O.U.R.: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust
- Perceivable – Interface elements can not be invisible to users.
- Operable – Users must be able to interact with the interface.
- Understandable – Users must be able to understand with information and the interface (cognitive).
- Robust – Must be usable by a wide range of user agents and assisstive technologies.
Use P.O.S.H.: Plain Ol’ Semantic HTML
- Use headings and properly.
- P is for paragraph.
- blockquotes for quotes (not indentation).
- Use lists for lists, menus, etcetera.
- Definition Lists.
- Use strong and em tags versus b and i.
- Alt text for non-textual elements.
- Visual impairments