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:
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.
In the U.S. in March 2008, users connecting at 56Kbps or less now make up 11.18% of active Internet users.
CWA Communications reported that the “median real-time download speed in the U.S. is a mere 2.3 megabits per second (mbps). The best available estimates show average download speeds in Japan of 63 mbps, in South Korea of 49 mbps and in France of 17 mbps.
Chart shows that from January 1995 to January 2008, there was a tremendous growth of average page size and average number of objects. The average page file size went from 14.1k in 1995, to 93.7k in 2003, to over 312k in 2008. The average number of page objects went from 2.3k in 1995, to 25.7 in 2003, to nearly 50 in 2008.