What’s happening in WCAG 2?

It’s been a while since Joe Clark brought us The Week In WCAG and I was starting to wonder what was happening. Maybe I should email him to ask?

Then I thought: am I really that lazy? Since I’m the one who wants to know, why don’t I go and look it up for myself. Obviously there were some concerns, like “where do I begin”, but I thought the WAI might be a start. And sure enough it was. Well, what’s happening, then?

WCAG Changes

Firstly, there’s a current draft of WCAG 2.0 with various changes to wording highlighted. Note this is not a stable version and is likely to be continually edited. I was pleased to see some signs of improvement — in many cases difficult to understand phrases have been rephrased more sensibly so they carry more meaning:

2.4.3 Web units have titles.WCAG 2.0 April 2006 Draft

… has now become …

2.4.3 Unit Titled: Web units have descriptive titles.WCAG 2.0 Editors Draft Aug 2006

The document now sensibly includes the WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference as one of the related documents, which to my mind is the best document in the set. To be fair, it wasn’t that the previous version of the guidelines had missed it; it was that the Quick Reference Guide only appeared after the April 2006 draft was published.

So, what was I really wanting to know? Well, firstly, I was wanting to know what’s happened recently, particularly in regards to the areas that I feel are weak in WCAG 2.0: have the Working Group picked up on things and started to strengthen them? I have to be honest here, and say no, not that I could find, anyway.

Indecipherable Minutes

I started with looking at the minutes of the WCAG WG meetings. Taking the most recent one as a starting point, I very quickly came to see what Lisa Seeman was meaning when she said that WCAG itself needs to be more accessible to people with cognitive impairments such as short term memory problems. Let’s look at these minutes:

resolution: accept LC-1074 as amended
resolution: accept LC-1075 as amended with to add this example ” On one page a checkmark is used to indicate that an item should be ordered and and another page it is used to indicate that a step has been completed. The same alt text “checked” could be used but since they serve differnt purposes, different alt text may make it easier to understand.”

WCAG WC Minutes

Note that I’ve changed the markup but the text is as-was. Firstly, if you’re not “in the know”, how are you expected to decipher what any of this means? Is it a cunning ploy to prevent outsiders being able to follow what the WG are doing? Or it is simply laziness and/or incompetence?

You might find yourself wondering “what’s LC-1075, then?” — I certainly did. Unfortunately, there is no link in this document anywhere that provides a definition of LC-1075. Which strikes me as a little odd, because one of the success criteria for WCAG 2.0 specifically states:

3.1.3 A mechanism is available for identifying specific definitions of words or phrases used in an unusual or restricted way, including idioms and jargon.WCAG 2.0

… and frankly I strongly suspect that LC-1075 is being used here with a specific definition in mind, rather than just as a collection of letters and numbers shoved together. In fact, I am of the belief that it relates to issue 1075 which is being tracked. This brings me to my next point. I’ve hit a brick wall, encountering an indecipherable document with meaningless references. I personally have the ability to poke around the W3C site until I find something that looks like it might have the same meaning, and cross reference it. I can even provide a URL for it. If I, as an outsider can do all these things, why can’t the working group provide a link to the issue being discussed in the minutes themselves?

The WG answered Lisa Seeman by saying the information was in a searchable database, and this was their “solution”. Yes it is, but no it isn’t a solution. If I were to refuse to define any idioms or jargon and instead say “if there’s anything you don’t understand, look it up in a dictionary”, then presumably someone would pick me up on success criterion 3.1.3 and say I wasn’t meeting it. But the W3C seem quite happy to do just this, when all they would need to to would be to provide the URL to the definition in the minutes. If someone can please explain how this can be answered without using any of the following words, I’d be delighted to hear:

Stupid. Incompetent. Lazy. Failing to understand the needs of users.

Bizzarely as it may sound, I’m not wishing to be critical of any of the individual members of the working group, as I’m sure they all believe in accessibility and are trying their best to get things right: but I am allowed to be critical of their collective decisions, if I think they’ve made bad ones!

Okay, that’s a fairly big gripe out of the way, what next?

Validity: Close our eyes and pretend we can’t hear you

What’s next was to search the issue tracking database — feel free to do this for yourself — after all, the W3C want us all to contribute, so let’s all contribute until we’re blue in the face and ensure that WCAG 2.0 comes out right.

As I’ve commented on validity before, foolishly using my real email address so that now I win the lottery twice a week and get umpteen emails from people like Mr Kane of Lloyds Bank who’s just waiting to give me £20 million, so obviously I’m interested in what’s happening as regards the argument for re-including validity in WCAG 2.0. Well, so far, nothing. That’s right, nothing, despite the numerous comments from peole who want to see it included.

The comments relating to validity include (this is not an exhaustive search):

  • LC-472,
  • LC-544,
  • LC-647,
  • LC-648,
  • LC-820,
  • LC-1064,
  • LC-1233,
  • LC-1306,
  • LC-1323,
  • LC-1324,
  • LC-1446,

… obviously there’s no need to provide any references to what these mean, although you can find all of these if you search for the word “valid” in the issue tracking database mentioned previously.

And why has there been no action taken with any of these? Well, apparently because:

[HOLD] Process this guideline when all comments for this have come in.Working Group Notes

Right. So this is a checkpoint relating to the normative part of the document, for which all comments must have been received by 22nd June 2006, yes? And we’re waiting for all the comments to come in? What’s the cut-off date, then? 2025? Of course, there have been an awful lot of comments relating to WCAG 2.0, so it could just be that they’ve not got to these yet. Personally, I would have felt that something which had been commented on so many times by so many people possibly deserved to be prioritised but what do I know? I’m beginning to think like that arch-sceptic Joe Clark and wonder if the working group have put their fingers in their ears over this issue and are singing “la la la I can’t hear you” because it doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas of how WCAG 2.0 should look for it to include validity.

I really, really hope I’m wrong. I want to believe in the W3C, I want to believe in the WCAG working group but when they are prioritising minor changes in the wording — such as adding the term “many” to:

It is important to note that many assistive technologies are included in this definition.WCAG 2.0 editors draft

… then it really does make me wonder whether the priorities are in the right place. Sure the wording is important, but so too is the meaning, and that needs to be fixed first.

But don’t take my word for it

Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Use the references I’ve provided, track down the issues that are important to you and follow them up if need be. The accessibility community shouldn’t be relying on Joe Clark to tell it what to think — we should each be standing up for what we, as individuals, believe to be right, and ensuring that the Working Group hears our voice and knows that we aren’t going away.

2 Responses to “What’s happening in WCAG 2?”

  1. Joe Clark responds:

    I do not tell people what to think. Hence no one should, by definition, rely on me to do so.

  2. JackP responds:

    Joe, I wasn’t wishing to imply that you tell people what to think, merely that rather than thinking for themselves, people will tend to blindly follow someone considered to be an authority on a particular subject. It’s a sad state of affairs that given the choice, many people would rather not think for themselves.

    And, like it or not, you are an authority when it comes to accessibility. Just like Nielsen for usability…

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