Why WCAG is not enough

It´s leaning towards legislation on web accessibility in the EU. More and more countries point out WCAG 2.0 level AA as the “right” level of accessibility. But what does conformance with these guidelines actually signify for the end user?

Susanna Laurin

Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer

In many ways, the global web consortium W3C makes an excellent job in setting the lowest common denominator for accessibility. However, W3C is a consensus based organisation with many strong wills, which means that the development of WCAG is slow. If you are apt to believe in conspiracies, you might even criticise W3C for being governed by corporate interests.

Sweden and Norway, like most countries in the EU, are increasingly building their accessibility policies on WCAG 2.0 level AA. From a user point of view, this is crazy! WCAG is simply not enough to create a Web for everyone.

Some examples

One of the rules in WCAG states that there should be more than one way to find a certain page. A search function is suggested as a way to achieve this. What the WCAG doesn´t say is where this search function should be placed, how it should work or how the results should be presented. This is a general problem with the guidelines. They state that certain functions should exist, but say nothing about the quality of these functions.

The WCAG also states that users should be able to control the computer using a keyboard. This is certainly an important issue. However, the guidelines do not mention that interfaces should work with a mouse as well. Neither do they bring up the touch screen as a possible input device.

As a whole, the WCAG does not reflect the fact that a PC is just one way of accessing the Web today. Sure, there is a number of “best practices” for mobile interfaces in another document from W3C, but this document was published in 2008 (!), when the mobile phones had regular buttons and much smaller screens than the smartphones of today.

The WCAG contains very few guidelines concerning design and cognition, and the few advices that are given in this area are found at level AAA. In other words, the EU’s proposed directive does not include luxuries such as:

  • Being able to see where you are in the navigation structure.
  • Finding comprehensible information in different formats, such as text, illustrations, photos, audio and video.
  • Getting relevant feedback, for example when you’re filling in a form.

What moves the market

Many of our customers in Sweden have understood that accessibility is good for most people and necessary for some. What the policies state is less important; the point is to work towards high quality and happy users.

In Norway, there is already legislation on accessibility, and this has given us a lot of job opportunities. However, the question of how much our customers are “required” to do is often stirring beneath the surface. This problem is even worse in the US, where it seems as though the law is standing in the way of accessibility rather than helping it.

On the other hand, legislation is a way demonstrating the core values of a society. Laws can also contribute to changing people’s attitudes. The question is what legislation on accessibility may bring about when the bar is set so low?

As we carry out more and more projects internationally, policies and legislation become increasingly important factors to relate to. First, because different countries and regions have different legislation, but also because we can see that at present, everyone is moving in the same direction – and not necessarily the right one.

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