WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), in case you’ve been under a rock for the last few days, has moved from WCAG 2.0 Candidate Recommendation to WCAG 2.0 Proposed Recommendation. As a proposed recommendation the document is really just out there for a final review by the Working Group and general feedback, with the expectation that in December it will complete the laborious publishing process. Therefore we can consider WCAG 2.0 to be complete and ready for use on real world websites.
How is WCAG 2.0 Different?
So what do you, as a web designer need to understand about WCAG 2.0, and how does it differ from the decade old WCAG 1.0 we’ve been discussing forever? First, WCAG 2.0 is to a great extent technology agnostic. One of the problems with WCAG 1.0 was that it tied very much into existing technologies and standards like HTML and as time progressed it became less relevant. Second, WCAG 2.0 is more testable and is organised around design principles for web accessibility. So what used to be guidelines and checkpoints at level 1, 2 and 3 have moved in WCAG 2.0 to principles which have success criteria at level A, AA and AAA.
Additional WCAG 2.0 Resources
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) offer an Overview of WCAG 2.0 Documents, a WCAG 2.0 FAQ, How to Meet WCAG 2.0, and a Comparison of WCAG 1.0 Checkpoints to WCAG 2.0. Further resources will appear in quick order to help you understand and quickly appreciate new methods of enhancing your website accessibility. Roger Hudson has written Migrating from WCAG 1.0 to WCAG 2.0 for the Web Industry Professionals Association (WIPA) and Accessible Forms using WCAG 2.0. These should provide you enough information to understand WCAG 2.0 and how to meet the accessibility needs of your users.
WCAG 2.0 and the Tasmanian Government
On the local front, the public sector document Tasmanian Government Website Standards: Web Pubishing Strategy, Principles and Minimum Requirements Version 1.4, April 2008 [PDF 351KB], on page 9, states clearly there is a requirement for conformance to WCAG 2.0. And in Tasmania we do have overall policies for web publishing that recognise usability and accessibility as major strategic elements of eGovernment. However, experience tells me that web managers in the Tasmanian public sector simply don’t read the relevant policies. Most will also insist you don’t go there as a web developer working under their project management. What can you do about that? One arm of government dictates policy while the other blatantly produces whatever pretty idea pops into focus via their graphic designers. It’s a case where web managers are failing (For Australians, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Anti Discrimination Act 1998).
Professional Learning Curves
As a web developer it’s easy to fall into the mindset that we know our craft and the world won’t change. Hey we know a bit of HTML and some CSS so we’re at the top of our game. Not true. Any field of computing will be frought with learning curves into the distant future – learning about accessibility is just one of those challenges. And migrating to improved technologies (like WCAG 2.0) is what we should feed on.
Breath of New Life for Accessibility
It’s my hope that WCAG 2.0 will breathe new life into the accessibility aspect of web development. Not as a stick to flog the unwilling (much as I’ve done by naming and shaming Arts Tasmania) but just because it’s what professional web development is about. Learning new approaches should not be met with hostile gazes and snarkey remarks at the water cooler. WCAG 2.0 is a web standard… enjoy the resources.
Update: 9 November, 2008
Mike Cherim’s post about his experiences developing and gaining certification for two WCAG 2.0 AAA websites is an interesting read today. Particularly on the topic of partial conformance and the process of claiming certification.