Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

To say that the W3C has been working on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 for some time would be an understatement. The first public working draft for WCAG 2 was posted on January 25, 2001 – a full 6 years ago. Just less than a year ago the last call, working draft of WCAG 2 was published, looking for comments and feedback from the community about the suitability of the guidelines.

The guidelines received mixed reaction from developers and accessibility specialists from around the world. One should not be surprised by this – even within the Accessibility Task Force we were not able to come to a concensus-based “joint position” on the last call. So, what should be done? Is there a way forward?

I suspect we’ll see a wide range of opinion on this – Joe Clark has written his position in: Letter to Tim Berners-Lee: Time to cancel WCAG 2. Is cancelling WCAG 2 the way forward? Should the W3C stay the course with their process and continue to develop the guidelines further? Is some other strategy more appropriate?

What to do with WCAG 2?

Your Replies

#1 On February 8th, 2007 9:46 am bruce replied:

My position is: WCAG 2 as it stands is just too complex. A technology-agnostic document is, in theory a good idea, but unfortunately it’s too “woolly” for quick comprehension.

WCAG 1 is easy(ish) for html developers to understand: “use lists”, “if you must use tables ..” etc.

(My full position as stated last year at last call

Or maybe, from WCAG 2 woolly document, the w3c in conjunction with the full community could synthesise official, tech-specific versions of the guidelines? For example, WCAG 2 HTML could express it in html terms, WCAG 2 Flash could express the guidelines in terms Flash developers can use, etc?

#2 On February 8th, 2007 10:32 am Carl Camera replied:

I am by no means an expert on either standard. But I want to make my sites sufficiently accessible. One thing I truly like about WCAG2, as it was explained to me at last year’s SxSW conference, is that WCAG2 strives to make all accessibility points testable. Imagine a validator that could test all accessibility points. No one would need to read the document — just check your site with the validator and follow links to instructions on how to bring your site into compliance.

Contracts could state “must pass accessibility validation test X” and designers and coders would know definitively when they met the standard. This validation if possible, in my opinion, would be a tremendous step forward for the cause of improved accessibility.

I suppose the argument against is that mechanical validation is imperfect and prone to “programmer tricks.” Some accessibility advocates would probably rail against the lazy programmer technique of validating then fixing. They would prefer if everyone studied and memorized the accessibility guidelines. Nice in theory but it’s not going to happen.

#3 On February 8th, 2007 10:34 am Robert Wellock replied:

Well, WCAG 1.0 is outdated is several places and has many “Until User Agents” littered everywhere.

Whereas WCAG 2.0 has a “Make-it-up as you go along Baseline” so you can pick-and-choose on how not to be accessible.

Basically the current concept of ‘baselines’ is seriously flawed.

#4 On February 8th, 2007 11:10 am Lee Pilmore replied:

The document so far is a disappointing nightmare. As a grass roots Web Standards worker, I fail to see how it can help and guide me in creating accessible interfaces.

When faced with such incomprehensible answers to straight forward questions I guess we cease to listen and find wisdom elsewhere. Wisdom delivered in a language we understand. This is why I believe it’s failed.

Be honest, who turns to the WCAG (2) when a wealth of knowledge is to be found from our very own blogging community? From our peers? This knowledge is obviously based on and built upon the WCAG 1 guidelines, which is still a usable document and so deserves our happy thoughts and reference.

What to do with WCAG 2. Force quit..?

#5 On February 8th, 2007 11:30 am Jared Smith replied:

Carl Camera wrote: Imagine a validator that could test all accessibility points. No one would need to read the document

‘Testable’ does not mean that the tests can be performed in an automated way. In fact, only a small portion of the success criteria can be performed in a totally automated way. The vast majority must be performed by a human. This is not a flaw in WCAG 2.0, it’s just the way that accessibility works.

#6 On February 8th, 2007 12:28 pm Mike Cherim replied:

It’s wait and see for me, but from what I’ve heard the overall strategy needs refinement. I haven’t even read the draft. It is amazingly inaccessible and lacks usability as a web document (not a good sign). It’s why I’m leaning towards refinement. The spec needs to be clear and concise else it’s likely to fall off into obscurity.

I’ve decided to wait for the movie to come out.

#7 On February 8th, 2007 1:42 pm Robert replied:

There wasn’t much wrong with WCAG1, considering it was the first version. Instead of starting, as I see it, from scratch, incremental updates should have been made to WCAG1 (using the same legible format), much like every other major recommendation the W3C works on. While I admire the attempt to be agnostic, it’s inappropriate for the W3C’s goals. They are the World Wide Web Consortium. Not the World Wide Consortium. They ought to make documents that are geared towards WWW medium. That is, they should be addressing web sites, and use verbiage that reflects that. So, the only reason to be agnostic is for input devices (which I think the WCAG1 was sufficiently agnostic).

The W3C over thought this one when they stepped out of their niche. In the end, we have a convoluted document that is harder to understand and, therefore, less likely to be implemented. That hurts everyone.

Because of all this, I’m behind the WCAG Samurai effort. They “get it” when the W3C didn’t.

#8 On February 8th, 2007 1:52 pm Jens Meiert replied:

“We” should probably drop it and ship WCAG 1.1 instead, asap

#9 On February 8th, 2007 7:45 pm Shawn Henry replied:

Please check out the WCAG 2 FAQ at and the Overview of WCAG 2.0 Documents at These address some common issues, including some brought up in these comments. For example, they say:
* “WCAG 2.0 Working Drafts included a new concept called baseline. The WCAG Working Group is refining the concept of baseline in WCAG 2.0 and will provide additional information soon.” (Thanks to the many people who sent constructive comments on how baseline was used in previous WCAG 2.0 Working Drafts, they have been very helpful.)
* “WAI has been focusing on developing the technical aspects of WCAG 2.0… WAI plans to develop other views of the WCAG 2.0 supporting material that will be easier to use in different situations. For example, each technique might be on one short Web page and a navigation bar would show the related information.”
* “… planning additional material to help Web developers who are not accessibility experts to develop accessible Web content.”

Note that the current plan is for technology-specific guidance to be provided in “Applications Notes” (that cover the basics) and Techniques documents (for more advanced folks). These will not be standards; instead, they will probably be official W3C “Notes” that are advisory.

WAI welcomes contributions to all this work, such as developing Techniques, as mentioned in

Hope this helps clarify a few points.

#10 On February 9th, 2007 5:53 am Weblog de Brainet » Archivo del weblog » ¿Qué hacemos con la versión 2 de las pautas de accesibilidad (WCAG 2.0)? replied:

[...] What to do with WCAG 2? [...]

#11 On February 9th, 2007 7:53 am Asbjørn Ulsberg replied:

WCAG 2.0 isn’t useless, it’s just not practical enough to be able to use it for anything else than theory. For me to use WCAG 2.0 efficiently in my work, I’d need a “WCAG 2.0 HTML” guideline that leverages all of WCAG 2.0′s compliance language to HTML, in a way that is comprihensible for an HTML developer. The way it is now, it’s just too general.

WCAG 2.0 is probably a good base for the development of more concrete specifications, but it doesn’t really stand on its own.

#12 On February 9th, 2007 9:37 am Dominic Shiells replied:

It would be so nice if the W3 did a website to go side by side with the guidelines actually showing in practice how they will be practically used.

#13 On February 9th, 2007 7:17 pm Emil Stenström replied:

I agree with many of the previous speakers. WCAG 2 is a no go. If you need to add even more document to an already huge spec there’s something wrong with the original. Don’t focus on being exact (define new words…), focus on making people understand what’s important!

#14 On February 10th, 2007 10:47 am pauldwaite replied:

Imagine a validator that could test all accessibility points. No one would need to read the document

Principle 1 in WCAG 2.0 is that content should be perceivable. Guideline 1.1 is “provide text alternatives for all non-text content”.

If we imagine an image, a validator can check that there is some alternative content there (i.e. there is an alt attribute with some text), but it can’t check that the alternative content adequately describes the image, because it doesn’t know what the image is.

If the text doesn’t adequately describe the image, the site isn’t accessible.

Some accessibility advocates would probably rail against the lazy programmer technique of validating then fixing.

No. Accessibility advocates would explain patiently to programmers that computers alone can’t solve everything, you need humans as well.

#15 On February 11th, 2007 8:08 am ppk replied:


I know that the concept of baseline is new, but I also know that I’ve never yet seen a definition of it. I read that W3C is ‘working on it’; as far as I know they’ve been doing this for at least the past year and a half.

What’s the point of pointing to a concept that hasn’t been defined yet and is totally unclear (maybe even to the Working Group?) It’s definitely not an argument in favour of WCAG 2.0 , and it doesn’t clarify anything.

Please enlighten me.

#16 On February 12th, 2007 9:32 pm Tuna replied:

I wouldn’t junk the WCAG 2, but then I do consider it the classic academic document that is frankly of no major practical use.

The fact that clarifications have to be issued by the W3C in the first place is a very bad sign that the workgroups for whatever reason have missed the core reasoning for the WCAG. Its meant to be a Guideline… presently its guiding nothing.

I do find that WCAG 2 is presently doing more damage as it is. As it is being held up by enterprises and govt agencies as the new light to follow, and like it or not they are taking the bare minimum that needs to be done to comply. Which is most cases is a lot less than the previous WAG.

Maybe the problem is the personalities in the working group, not the document for the inaction. It only takes one strong personality in this type of group to derail a process.

What to do,
1) you can patch it, issue example clarifications and make damn sure they cover all bases.
2) revise it, looking at the core of what it should be doing. Maybe under a new working group.
3) scrap it, start again, under a new working group
4) forget about it the W3G is dead, its just doesn’t know it.

To stop the fall out of 2 + 3 I feel (1) is what’s going to happen. Question is when!

#17 On February 14th, 2007 2:01 pm Jordan Clark replied:

The problem with these guidelines, in my opinion, is that they are way too verbose. I realise that it is a technical standard and needs to be properly defined, but as Joe Clark pointed out in his article To
Hell with WCAG2
, 28,000 word is just ridiculous!
My main concern is that if senior members of the web standards community have a hard time making head or tail of it, “old-school” designers are going to be even more disaffected and carry on with bad practices.

#18 On February 15th, 2007 4:34 pm Shawn Henry replied:

I know that the concept of baseline is new, but I also know that I’ve never yet seen a definition of it.

Hi, ppk,
Baseline was defined in previous documents. Some are still available and some have been replaced.

Baseline was included in the WCAG 2.0 Working Draft 17 April 2006, especially the Conformance section at

There was a brief intro to baseline in past versions of the Overview of WCAG 2.0 Documents at, for example: “A new concept in WCAG 2.0 is technology baseline. A baseline is a list of Web technologies (HTML, CSS, etc.). The baseline defines the technologies that most user agents (browsers, assistive technologies, etc.) support in a way that meets the needs of people with disabilities. One way to think about baselines is: The technologies that you can rely on in creating your Web site because there is ample accessibility support for them.

The WCAG WG received lots of public comments on baseline, and the comments have been very helpful in refining how baselines is used in WCAG 2.0. To help communicate that the WCAG Working Group agrees with many of the comments and that the Working Group is making changes based on the feedback, we updated the Overview document for now to say that the concept of baseline is being refined.

#19 On February 16th, 2007 3:04 am Pat replied:

WCAG 2.0 is getting to be a bit of a joke, same as XHTML 2.0 come to think of it.

I was interested to hear to latest on HTML 5 recently and you have to wonder how the W3C will retain any credibility if people walk away and start creating their own ‘standards’.

But maybe this is the only way forward; community generated standards. I mean this is how most things we take for granted–in terms of web technology–originally came about anyway, isn’t it?

#20 On February 17th, 2007 8:00 pm Roman Novak replied:

Lets see some “human” look: WCAG 2.0 could be some rules as the grammar are the rules in a language. We need the rules – grammar to understand each other. We need strict rules to use it in the language at TV, newspapers etc. But we don’t need strict rules in a pub between friends, having fun. It can be similar in a web. For formal sites we need rules (WCAG 2.0), but for nobody can order use it strictly everywhere (likewise it would not be possible).

#21 On February 19th, 2007 6:23 pm Web Directions North post mortem ¬ Easy Reader replied:

[...] The fireside chat went really well. Joe is just a fun guy to listen to, whether he’s presenting or not. Joe talked at length about designing for accessibility, using the TTC as a case study. He showed how accessibility concerns should be pervasive throughout an organization, in every public touchpoint. He also called for the destruction of WCAG2, but that’s another can of worms entirely. [...]

#22 On April 3rd, 2007 5:36 am Cecil Ward replied:

I feel that, despite its many serious defects, WCAG2 has a role to play. I suggest that it be re-targetted, if that’s the right word, to become a schema or meta-standard, rather than a concrete instance of an actual accessibility standard. What I mean by this is that it should become a statement of abstract guiding principles to be used when defining actual concrete standards as they relate to a particular technology. A ‘how to write a standard’ document. So that if, say, a WCAG 1.1 or 1.2 or whatever for (X)HTML is produced, then that concrete standard should be built to conform to WCAG2. A statement of guiding principles is valuable in itself, and its abstract nature would not then be something to be criticised. Concrete standards should then be available to give concise practical guidance, while the philosophy behind their development would not have to be on show up front.

#23 On May 7th, 2007 5:09 pm börsenspiel replied:

Note that the current plan is for technology-specific guidance to be provided in “Applications Notes” (that cover the basics) and Techniques documents (for more advanced folks). These will not be standards; instead, they will probably be official W3C “Notes” that are advisory.

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