Whither WCAG 2.0?

It had been expected that the WCAG 2.0 guidelines would be released by W3C WAI this year, to replace WCAG 1.0 which came out way back in 1999. However the reviewing process for WCAG 2.0 seems to have slowed down (if not stopped) due, I suspect, to the huge influx of comments received after Joe Clark published his “To Hell With WCAG 2.0” article published in May on A List Apart. Joe’s posting generated much debate from commentators such as The Pickards, Stephen Downes, Joe Dolson and contributors to Accessify Forum as well as follow up articles and discussions on Joe’s own Blog.

Contextual Web Accessibility

Coincidentally Joe’s A List Apart article was published while I was attending the International World Wide Web Conference 2006, held in Edinburgh. Myself and David Sloan presented a paper on Contextual Web Accessibility – Maximizing the Benefit of Accessibility Guidelines at the W4A 2006 workshop which took place prior to the WWW 2006 conference itself. Our paper described some of the limitations with WAI’ s approach to addressing Web accessibility issues, and limitations with the WAI model and the WCAG guidelines, arguing for a holistic approach which recognises that there can be a diversity of ways of addressing accessibility.

Although I would not agree with Joe’s abrasive style in raising his concerns about the limitations of WAI’s approach, I should acknowledge that his approach did prove successful in generating debate and in breaking through the ‘politically correct’ barrier which was needed in order to have a more open debate. I was also pleased to find that Joe had cited our paper in a posting which described a number of alternative approached to accessibility:

… WCAG-style checkpoints are not the only way to go. We already have a few viable competing philosophies to adopt for the future.

  • Sloan, Heath, and Hamilton (sic) urge us to make the entire experience, particularly a learning experience, accessible even if it means technical violations of WCAG or the use of something like PowerPoint.

The paper at W4A 2006 was the fourth peer-reviewed paper we had published in this area, following on from Holistic Approaches to E-Learning Accessibility (ALT-J Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2006), Implementing A Holistic Approach To E-Learning Accessibility (a prize-winning paper available in the ALT-C 2005 Conference Proceedings), Forcing Standardization or Accommodating Diversity? A Framework for Applying the WCAG in the Real World (W4A 2005) and Developing A Holistic Approach For E-Learning Accessibility (Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 2004, Vol. 30(3)).

Accessibility Summit

Having developed a model for addressing Web accessibility and gaining support from increasing numbers of experts in the field, we recognised the need to engage with the wider stakeholder community in seeking wider support for our approach and identifying ways of deploying this approach, especially across the higher and further education sectors. To help further this aim, on 2 November 2006 TechDis and UKOLN hosted the Accessibility Summit II. This meeting, which was a follow-up to an initial meeting held in February 2004, attracted 19 invited participants from a number of partner organisations in JISC’s Strategic E-Content Alliance, including MLA, BBC and Becta, together with representatives from key organisations in the accessibility field, including AbilityNet and UsabilityExchange. This meeting was a great success, with agreement reached on the need to build on WAI’s initial pioneering work through initially producing a manifesto which summarises areas of agreement to be followed by a roadmap which will identify key areas of work needed to build on our approaches and help in the deployment across a wider community.

Building On This Work

One approach to the deployment challenge is to engage in discussions in a wider forum within the key communities. I was therefore very pleased when two joint proposals by myself and Professor Stephen Brown (De Montford University) were accepted by the Museums and the Web 2007 conference. The workshop on
Accessibility Guidelines: Why don’t they always deliver accessible sites and what can you do about it? will provide an opportunity to explore some of the limitations of traditional approaches to Web accessibility and the Professional Forum on Accessibility 2.0: A Holistic and User-centred Approach to Web Accessibility aims to encourage debate on the application of alternative approaches.

I coined the term “Accessibility 2.0” term for a keynote talk on “Accessibility 2.0: Blended Learning For Blended Accessibility” at the “Blended Learning to Splendid Learning” Technology Innovation in Higher Education” conference in June 2006. I am looking forward to further developing these ideas during 2007. And from the recent discussion on the JISC-repositories JISCMail list it is clear that this debate needs to be extended to include the challenges in providing instituional repositories as well.