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WCAG Controversy and Human Design

By introducing testability and dumping accessibility criteria that are untestable, WCAG 2.0 may hurt the very people who need it most, argues former working group invited expert Gian Sampson-Wild in an important and timely ALA opinion piece. (The deadline for WCAG 2.0 comments is 29 July.) Plus Sharon Lee on Human-to-Human Design, and Joe Clark on PDF accessibility.

As law, “Speed Limit 55 MPH” is enforceable. “Don’t drive too fast” is not. Although heeded by too few U.S. web teams, W3C accessibility standards are the law in many nations. That’s one reason the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Working Group has been under pressure to increase the specificity and clarity—and thus the enforceability—of its guidelines.

Because organizations must be able to state positively whether or not they have complied with a legally mandated guideline, the Working Group has introduced the notion of “testability” in its new WCAG 2.0 documents. In place of vague guidlines like, “Ensure sufficient contrast between foreground and background,” WCAG 2.0 provides technical specifications that can be measured by machines.

The trouble is, some criteria are inherently untestable, argues former working group invited expert Gian Sampson-Wild in Issue No. 240 of A List Apart for people who make websites. Rather than admit the problem and rethink testability, says Sampson-Wild, WCAG 2.0 jettisons needed guidelines that cannot be defined in a testable manner. In so doing, she claims, WCAG 2.0 hurts the very people it is intended to help.

Read Testability Costs Too Much and decide for yourself. Then share your comments with the W3C. The deadline for comments is 29 June 2007. That’s right, three days from now. So please read, think, and decide.

Also in this issue, new A List Apart author Sharon Lee discusses using linear and non-linear narrative and other techniques of engagement to create a rich, sensory experience that immerses people in your website, encouraging deeper involvement with your message and brand.

The principles of good human-to-computer interface design are simplicity, support, clarity, encouragement, satisfaction, accessibility, versatility, and personalization. While it’s essential to heed these, it’s also important to empathize with and inspire your audience so they feel you’re treating them less like a faceless user and more like a human being.

Find out more in Human-to-Human Design.

Issue No. 240 also brings back Joe Clark’s absolutely essential 22 August 2005 piece, Facts and Opinions About PDF Accessibility:

Contrary to popular opinion—and also contrary to quasi-judicial claims in some places—PDF documents can be no less accessible than HTML. … This article will explain how PDF does and does not support accessibility.

All this, plus the painfully brilliant and hilariously insightful illustrations of ALA artist and rock star Kevin Cornell. And ALA T-Shirts on sale cheap. What more, we ask, could you ask?

Comments off. (Comment at ALA.)

[tags]alistapart, accessibility, design, wcag, wcag2, pdf[/tags]

By Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek.

Principal & Creative Director, Automattic, Inc. Founder & Publisher, A List Apart. Co-founder, An Event Apart design conference. Publisher & co-founder, A Book Apart—brief books for people who design, write, and code. Have written two books, notably Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition. Faculty, MFA, Interaction Design program, School of Visual Arts, NY. Host, The Big Web Show. But what I really want to do is direct.