How hard can it be?
Before a new version of a standard is to be released, it is a very good idea to test the requirements in the real world. If the market isn’t capable of fullfilling the ideas of the standardisation bodies, the standard will not be of any use. W3C has a thorough process to make sure the success criteria of WCAG are possible to implement before presenting them to the members for voting. That is a good thing.
But let me start with a little bit of background to this story.
In the accessibility world, the difference between European and US ways to do things is huge. Over the years, I have been getting used to american colleagues starring at me in disbelief when I tell them, quite honestly, that neither compliance nor conformance translate into any really useful word in the nordic languages I use in my daily life. We don’t strive for compliance. Our clients don’t aim for compliance. It seems like a theoretical exercise very far away from our business.
At the same time, we do believe in standards. We are active in national as well as international standardisation, but we see them as tools, not the goal. Our clients are aware of the WCAG guidelines, but more interested in making the interfaces work for end users. Our work in accessibility is practical, hands on, based on loads of user testing, and solutions focused. We simply don’t talk about compliance.
At the same time, elsewhere …
This winter, important work has been going on at W3C, testing WCAG 2.1 criteria in order to move them from candidate to proposed recommendation. This time, the testing involved the Funka website, together with others. We did not apply for this, or even think of it. We have, of course, looked at the proposed requirements and discussed pros and cons. But we had no intention of implementing them before the standard becomes stable.
Until we actually got the question from Andrew Kirkpatrick, who is one of the co-chairs of the W3C working group. ”Your site is already close, how about trying the new criteria?” It was a busy Friday, on top of all other projects and assignments we were also preparing for our international event. But when I mentioned the idea to my development team, they said ”of course, no problem”.
That wasn’t entirely true, because we did have to make some quick design changes that we are still not happy with – improvements are on the way! But since our website is already based on our own requirements, which are not tied to WCAG 2.0 but to user satisfaction, we implemented the WCAG 2.1 A, AA and AAA criteria without much effort. Actually, it was great fun, and we hope that our work helped the W3C in the process of testing the new version of the standard.
W3C is a community effort, and such contributions as from Funka and others are essential to achieving international consensus, says Shadi Abou Zahra, Accessibility Strategist and Technology Specialist at the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
Of course, this does not only serve the W3C, but all our clients as well. During the process, we learnt some new tricks and solved issues that will definitely benefit others as well. When the European Web Accessibility Directive enters into force, we do foresee demand on compliance, even though we will fight that way of thinking as much as we can.
But if we can fullfill WCAG 2.1 at AAA level without preparation, within a very limited time frame and no real trouble, anyone can do this. That is, I think, the most important learning point of all. After all, accessibility isn’t magic.