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Web Content Accessibility Guidelines -- 10 years later

10:35 pm on Apr 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member drdoc is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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It is now 2009 ... in just 11 days, it will have been 10 years since the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [w3.org] first became a W3C recommendation.

And where are we at today? What is the status of this tremendous effort?

Progress in review

On the upside, we have come a very long way from where we stood in 1999. CSS is now a commonly accepted (and used) standard for all websites. Even the WYSIWYG editors* have joined the "standards" bandwagon. We are no longer coding for X browsers. Rather, we are coding to a standard; one that actually most browsers (yes, even IE these days) adhere to.

But despite all this progress, we have overall not really progressed much. In certain areas, giant leaps forward have been made. But in other areas, we have taken equally large steps backwards.

Much still remains to be done

I recently sat in a meeting with supposed web "professionals" ... Some of the design aspects that were discussed were outright horrid from an accessibility and usability perspective. When I expressed my concern over where the discussion was heading, citing certain aspects of the WCAG, there was a big silence in the group ... Quietly, and confidently, awaiting feedback to my remarks, one person spoke up. In fact, he was exactly the person I expected to first say anything. Young, inexperienced, very much "new media" oriented, where the bells and whistles are more important than how stuff actually works.

"Where are you getting that stuff from?" he asked with clear scepticism in his voice.

When I mentioned "the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines", the room went even more silent, with a big "Who? What? Where?" look on everyone's face.

I cannot say I was directly surprised, as I have been in many of those meetings before.

"Why should we care?" "This does not apply to us." Or, the worst one of them all: "Those are not the types of customers we are seeking to attract."

This little story and the experience that goes along with it summarizes very well the current problem.

So very few truly understand what accessibility and usability is about!

Ignorance is not an excuse! Usability is for everyone!

With or without the WCAG [w3.org] and WAI [w3.org] (Web Accessibility Initiative), I am utterly in shock over some of the horrendous usability problems we are still wrestling with.

A few highlights, in no particular order:

  • "Enter your full legal name" followed by a "Sorry, your name must only contain letters (A-Z)" error message. Let me assure you that my full legal name contains nothing but letters. Let me also assure you that A-Z are not the only letters out there. Even worse -- occasionally the "non-letter" is just silently removed.
  • "ZIP code" when asking for an international address. ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) is a U.S. thing only. Postal code is a more appropriate piece of data to ask for.
  • A blank page with no explanation whatsoever when surfing with JavaScript turned off.
  • "Your browser is not supported. Please upgrade to IE4+, Firefox, or Safari." IE4? Really? So my Opera 9 is inferior to that piece of junk? In fact, browser requirements are so passť.
  • Improperly (if at all) optimized images. This coupled with severe lack of understanding for the various image formats. Neither GIF nor JPG is outdated in favor of PNG. The opposite is true as well.
  • "New media" fanatics. Just yesterday, I ran across use of a 1.2MB flash file to load nothing but a background. This same background could have been rendered as a 45k GIF. So, why didn't they? They wanted it to "fade in" ... Along with this topic we also add improper use of Flash and similar technologies, especially in a fashion that utterly breaks usability.

Again -- ignorance is no excuse!

Are there other common mistakes out there? What can we do, as designers/developers to provide a counter balance in favor of more awareness of accessibility and usability?

* Or -- perhaps more accurately -- WYSIWYG+, since you seem to get just a little more markup than you had initially bargained for.

[edited by: DrDoc at 4:56 pm (utc) on April 25, 2009]

12:45 am on Apr 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator ergophobe is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Are there any other common mistakes out there? Are you kidding.

How long is a last name

It's amazing how many ecommerce sites or search on social sites will reject a last name that is shorter than a three letters. Forget that the most common names in the entire world are, in fact, two-letters long. I once went through the Berkeley phone book and concluded that over 1% of all listings had two-character last names.

Numbers only for phone numbers and credit card numbers

My CC number is printed on my card with *spaces* and 0-9. The phone company lists my number with hyphens and parentheses. In other countries, . are often used in phone nums. Take any data, strip all non-numbers, then validate!

Don't worry, all users have color-calibrated monitors and eprfect color vision

Okay, maybe they don't. Maybe, just maybe, some monitors have different gamma, gamut, contrast, brightness, and maybe, just maybe some of your users are color-impaired (as in at least a few percent of the population). So take a screenshot and convert to grayscale. Is it readable? Because frankly, your green type on a red background, red type on a red background to me.

>>Please upgrade to IE4+

I have gotten these messages for IE7 - in other words, they test to see if I have IE 5 or 6. But, failing to accept my browser of choice, I switch to IE7, which fails their stupid test.

12:56 am on Apr 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member g1smd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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*** Are there any other common mistakes out there? ***

Don't get me started!

I keep a very big stick under the desk to beat some sense into people like that.

11:09 am on Apr 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Are there any good tools out there a website manager can use to check for WCAG compliance?

A quick check looks to me like w3c.org no longer has a validation tool specific to WCAG.

I'm looking for a tool a non-technical client can use without getting bogged down in other validation nit picking.

11:25 am on Apr 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

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There are a number of 508, WAI and WCAG validators out there, but you need a bit of interpretation with some of the 'errors' they highlight.
11:57 am on Apr 25, 2009 (gmt 0)


WebmasterWorld Administrator phranque is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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you should have Web Developer 1.1.6 installed on your Firefox browser which has an accessibility validator but otherwise you could directly use the site that feeds the WD validator.
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