Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

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Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
By John M. Slatin,, Sharron Rush
Table of Contents
Chapter 3.  Accessibility in Law and Policy


Setting Global Standards

We mentioned that the provisions of Section 508 were based on the work of the W3C. Specifically, Section 508 evolved from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG), which themselves are the result of years of consensus building with input from numerous individuals, educational institutions, and businesses.

Founded in 1994, the W3C is a consortium of over 500 member organizations, originally organized by the Centre Européen de Recherche Nucléaire (CERN [European Center for Nuclear Research]) and by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Currently, the W3C is led by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web (who was employed at CERN when he wrote the initial proposals for what is now the Web). The W3C has nearly 60 staff and is jointly hosted by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science in the United States, the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA) in Europe, and the Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus in Japan. The W3C Web site, http://www.w3.org/, contains a wealth of well-organized materials about the Consortium's research, guidelines, and progress in creating a World Wide Web that allows for the highest degree of cooperation and information exchange. The ongoing goal of the W3C is to "develop interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential as a forum for information, commerce, communication, and collective understanding." [7]

[7] From the W3C site, accessed May 17, 2002, at http://www.w3.org.

So, how does this happen? Well, some would say too slowly because of the consensus-building process that is used, but we'll let you decide as you explore the process of developing policy recommendations. There are many areas of work in the W3C, addressing a full range of topics that affect the evolution of the Web. Consensus building is an important part of the process since the W3C has no real enforcement mechanism and must depend on the willingness of its partners to adopt and promote the specifications that it develops. Several hundred dedicated researchers and engineers working for W3C member organizations contribute their time and skills to developing protocols and technologies that will allow the Web to fulfill its full potential to become a truly universal and democratic communication medium. Every effort is made to ensure that developments are global in scope and as inclusive as possible.

The W3C's Process for Producing Recommendations

In order to build consensus among its diverse membership, the W3C follows a rigorous and systematic process. Documents that become formal W3C Recommendations must go through several distinct stages. During the first stage of development, the documents are called Working Drafts. Each document goes through many Working Drafts (as many as one per month); these are produced and discussed by members of the relevant WAI Working Group and made available for public comment as well. When the group agrees that the draft is stable, the W3C director publishes it as a Candidate Recommendation. At this point, the goal is to gather information about actual implementations of each checkpoint: the document can advance only when at least two successful implementations of each checkpoint have been identified. The document then becomes a Proposed Recommendation awaiting approval by the W3C's member organizations. Only when that approval has been received is the document published as a formal Recommendation. (If you're interested in learning more about this and other aspects of the W3C process, you can find the full W3C process described in the World Wide Web Consortium Process Document at http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Process/Process-19991111/process.html.)

The W3C launched the WAI in April 1997 specifically to address the question of how to expand access to the Web for people with disabilities. The WAI's activities are only a part of the W3C's tremendous overall effort, but they are the most relevant to our purposes. We refer most often to the WCAG and occasionally to the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG), published in February 2000, and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (UAAG), currently in Candidate Recommendation status. (Version 2.0 of the WCAG is a Working Draft as of May 2002, but discussion of WCAG 2.0 would be premature at this point. You may view the most recent public Working Draft on the W3C's Technical Reports site at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/.)

WAI recommendations are the result of years of research gathering data, forming Working Groups in several related areas, reporting, developing preliminary recommendations, taking comment, making final recommendations leading to the Guidelines. The WCAG 1.0 Recommendations are organized into three levels of priority. The WCAG Working Group provides a self-identifying rating system from A to triple A to indicate the level of conformance to the three priority levels. Table 3-1 explains the WCAG 1.0 priority levels and correlates them to the rating system.

There can be no doubt that the influence and result of the WAI work has been profound. We have seen that government policy as defined in Section 508 is driving U.S. accessibility efforts. Section 508 standards are largely based on the Recommendations of the WAI. And, as we shall see in the next section, most other nations have established WCAG 1.0 itself as the standard.

Table 3-1. WCAG 1.0 Priority Levels and Rating System

Priority

Rating

Conformance Standard

1

A

Developers MUST satisfy Priority 1 (P1) checkpoints in order to attain a minimum degree of accessibility. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying P1 checkpoints is a necessary component of allowing many people access to Web documents.

2

AA

(Double A) Developers SHOULD satisfy P2 checkpoints for a higher degree of accessibility. The Canadian federal government has mandated compliance to the P2 level.

3

AAA (Triple A)

Developers MAY address P3 checkpoints for maximum accessibility and usability. Some P3 provisions have been mandated in public policy. For example, the Section 508 standards require a means to skip over navigation elements and proceed to the main content of a Web page, even though this is a P3 guideline.

Source: Adapted from information accessed on May 17, 2002, at http://www.w3.org/TR/WAIWEBCONTENT/priorities.


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    Maximum Accessibility(c) Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone
    ISBN: 0201774224
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2002
    Pages: 128

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