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A New Era of Web Accessibility Brought Forth by WCAG 2.0 Recommendation

December 12, 2008

Kiyochika Nakamura
Accessibility Engineer

Almost nine and a half years have passed since the release of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 as a W3C recommendation in May 1999, and now, WCAG 2.0 has been officially released as a recommendation. It goes without saying that in the information-related industry, that is said to be evolving rapidly, or rather, in leaps and bounds, the magnitude of changes and progress that has transpired during these nine and a half years is enormous.

As a member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Mitsue-Links has actively contributed to Web accessibility, and we believe that the new recommendation will have a huge and positive impact on the entire Web.

There may be many people who are already aware of the changes that have taken place in WCAG 2.0 because the guideline has received considerable attention from various different perspectives, and additionally because it took a long time for this guideline to be finalized as a recommendation. In this column, I would like to highlight those areas within WCAG 2.0 that have evolved extensively, and consider their value and significance.

Testability

One shortcoming of WCAG 1.0 and the current JIS X 8341-3, Japanese Industry Standard for Web accessibility, is the lack of ability to test objectively. This fact was commented on by Professor Watanabe, the chief project manager for the JIS working group on Web accessibility in the second part of the 24th episode of the Accessibility Podcast. One of the most important characteristics of WCAG 2.0 is that the new guidelines have been improved to become testable.

This testability that is often referenced to is color contrast. Since WCAG 1.0 and the current version of JIS X 8341-3 only state “sufficient contrast” as a requirement and do not define a specific numeric standard, something is judged as “sufficient” based on the subjectivity of the person making the decision. However, in WCAG 2.0, there are specific numerical standards, such as the contrast ratio must be greater than 4.5 : 1. Therefore, people who understand the guideline can use some testing tool to objectively conclude whether a target satisfies the standards or not.

As shown in this example, certain tasks in the Web development process will become easier. Mitsue-Links was involved in the implementation testing process in the earlier versions of WCAG 2.0 before it was finalized as a recommendation, when the guideline was still in the stages of Candidate Recommendation and Proposed Recommendation. During the implementation testing, we felt that WCAG 2.0 was advantageous in having precise standards since there will now be no discrepancies in understanding between specialists. Please refer to the “WCAG 2.0 Implementation Report” and the Accessibility Blog entry entitled “WCAG 2.0 Proposed Recommendation” for details on our implementation testing.

Accommodation of future technologies

As mentioned in the introduction, WCAG 1.0 became a recommendation in 1999, and its contents have naturally become outdated. Moreover, it was a set of guidelines that was fashioned in a manner that made it difficult to accommodate potential future changes. In particular, item 11 of WCAG 1.0 recommends the use of W3C technologies, and does not consider situations where other content formats are used. As it has become commonplace for websites to incorporate the use of Flash, PDF, and Ajax, a new guideline that caters to the current status has become a necessity.

Thus, WCAG 2.0 has been written in such a manner to be “technology independent” that not only responds to various technologies in existence today but also accommodates potential future technologies. This makes the guidelines slightly difficult to understand; however, this problem is overcome by providing examples specific to particular technologies in the related documents such as “How to Meet WCAG 2.0,” “Understanding WCAG 2.0,” and “Techniques for WCAG 2.0.”

This measure helps prevent the guidelines from becoming obsolete with progress in future technologies, thereby making them more worthy of compliance.

International Harmonization

It could be said that one of the reasons why WCAG 2.0 drew so much attention globally is because of the international harmonization it has inspired. The work on revising the Japanese Industry Standard (JIS) for Web accessibility, JIS X 8341-3, is continuing with projected release (at the time of this writing) in September 2009 and it is planned that the success criteria used in WCAG 2.0 will be incorporated as is in the revised JIS standard. Additionally, US legislation Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is undergoing a revision at the same time, and it has already become apparent that this revision will also adopt the contents of WCAG 2.0. It should be noted that the standards on accessibility are being revised or developed based on WCAG 2.0 not only in Japan but also in Europe and other regions. Thus, for Web accessibility, it could be said that a single guideline will soon form the basis of a global standard.

Just from the information mentioned above, it should be clear that WCAG 2.0 is an extremely important guideline for the future of the Web. Mitsue-Links has contributed to WCAG 2.0 through public comments and implementation testing mentioned previously, and had hoped for a public release as an official recommendation as soon as possible. Now that the guideline has become an official recommendation, we wish to continue our activities so for as many sites as possible become compliant with WCAG 2.0, and thereby become more accessible.