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WAI has been an astounding success but. . .

WAI has been an astounding political success. It has become a monopoly accessibility brand in the United States, the European Union and many other countries; but with very few exceptions it is only nominally legal and nominally enforced.

Six years after WCAG 1.0 public sector compliance is modest and business sector compliance is nugatory. This is partly because it is in the nature of organisations facing competing pressures that they will only do what they have to, particularly for disabled people who are considered to be neither politically nor economically important.

But it is partly because the WCAG 1.0 process was largely a hard bitten negotiation with Microsoft on one side of the table and more or less everybody else on the other; the outcome was partly pragmatic and partly academic but the product was never user tested.

As with all such negotiations, the big and the small issues ended up in a pudding; but the icing was really well made and that is why the politics worked.

But for your average designer the requirements are too complex so that the very density of the text works against compliance. What designers need are some clear, broad principles, written in simple prose, which say what they must do in order to provide the degree of accessibility which will be widely accepted as the legal norm.

The whole WAI process is too cumbersome, slow, detailed, access and process, as opposed to creativity, oriented, implicitly tied to the PC and too removed from the multi media world of the excited but harassed creator.

When WCAG 2.0 is finally delivered we need a new start which:

  • Is platform neutral
  • Equally committed to creativity as to access/process issues
  • Rapidly iterative and always provisional.

If the situation continues as it is, designers, confused but not sued, will simply turn off.


  1. Richard Warren | February 21st, 2007 | 2:16 pm

    You are right that the first version of WAI takes time to understand, it mixes up techniques that are design issues (colour and layout), authoring issues (language and structure) and technical issues (correct html code etc.). It was also written by committee process and attempted to form the basis for a legal document.

    The new (version 2) WAI is much better as it clearly seperates the disciplines. Now the graphic designer can concentrate on ensuring that the “look and feel” is accessible, the author can concentrate on the text leaving the engineer to do all the technical stuff required to deliver that style and content reliably over the Internet.

    The key to successful use of WAI is to understand that “web-design” is a combination of these disciplines. Wherever possible it should be a team effort, but if only one person is responsible for the whole enterprise then s/he needs to understand each of the disciplines and apply the different skills at the appropriate stages of development.

    Another benefit of version 2 is the ability to define a baseline for users and technologies. This means that the guidelines can be applied quite easily to a whole range of communication technologies (not just html websites). So the new version is platform neutral and should not limit creativity. However it does require webdesigners to think about what they are doing and take responsibility for ensuring that they properly understand the technologies they are using and do not introduce barriers to accessibility through poor engineering.

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