The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group was chartered in August 1997 to produce a recommendation and supporting material for Web content providers and page designers that describes why and how to meet the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. Chuck Letourneau of Starling Access Services and Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden of the Trace Research and Development Center have been co-chairing the working group. Wendy Chisholm (then of the Trace R&D Center now of the W3C), Dr. Vanderheiden and Ian Jacobs of the W3C have been editing the materials produced by the Working Group.
As of November 1999, the Working Group has 84 people subscribed to the mailing list. Since January 1999, the average (per quarter) number of members in good standing is 11. An average of 34 people each quarter have written at least one message to the list (not including spam). The group consists of people from industry, government, disability organizations, research organizations, and the Web community in general.
Although the Trace Center Unified Web Site Accessibility Guidelines version 8 (January 1998) provided the WG with a firm basis on which to proceed, the rapidly changing technologies of the Web, as well as those of standard and assistive devices meant that the WG had to address how to create a document intended to be stable while everything around it is changing. The group did this by:
As chartered, the WG was expected to produce a set of guidelines, a list of checkpoints, and a "living" techniques document. As can be seen from the following list, the group produced the expected deliverables (including an Errata page) as well as two supporting documents ( and ). These additional documents address the needs of readers who needed more direction to fully implement the guidelines.
Consider the ever changing landscape of: browsers, hardware, assistive technologies, markup languages, and style conventions. The group had to come up with a document that ensured both backwards compatibility with older browsers, assistive technologies, markup languages, as well as slow modem connections while anticipating new browsers and assistive technologies, on a variety of platforms, with larger and faster bandwidth, and new markup technologies!
We used a few strategies:
During review of initial drafts, the response suggested that people assumed accessible design meant nothing more than creating a text-only version of the site so that it could be used by people who are blind. Therefore, in subsequent revisions we emphasized the needs of people with a variety of abilities. We also emphasized that accessible design usually improves the usability for all people, particularly people using mobile devices to access the Web.
We also constructed much of the document around the themes "Graceful Transformation" and "Separation of Content from Structure" to promote the idea that a single document could be designed to satisfy a wide range of user needs.
In the WCAG charter, two criteria for success were listed:
Several countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Portugal, United Kingdom, Denmark, and France are adopting policies that require various levels of conformance to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 for either public businesses, government Web sites, or agencies associated with the government. More information about government policies is available from the Education and Outreach document Policies Relating to Web Accessibility.
Many companies are adopting corporate-wide policies that aim to make their sites conform to the Double-A level of WCAG 1.0.
Organizations trying to conform to WCAG 1.0 have asked for interpretations of the guidelines. In some instances it has not been clear what it takes to meet certain checkpoint criteria. For example, the U.S. Government uses PDF to publish many documents. Checkpoint 11.1 says, "Use W3C technologies when they are available and appropriate for a task and use the latest versions when supported. Priority 2." PDF is not a W3C technology, therefore can U.S. Government agencies conform at a Double-A level? PDF is interesting because it has accessibility issues of its own. There are several utilities that try to convert PDF to HTML. We recommend using these but ensuring that the resulting HTML conforms to WCAG. Therefore, one could meet 11.1 by providing an accessible alternative (checkpoint 11.4).
Another issue raised by people trying to conform to the guidelines is that if one does not have a knowledge of markup languages, it may be difficult to determine what needs to be done or how one may do it. Therefore, we have watched the progress of the Authoring Tool Guidelines, anticipating the first round of tools that will conform to them. We hope that newer tools will help novice users develop accessible content.
The Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group is making headway on stop-gap measures such as tools that transform tables and techniques for evaluation and repair tools to help author automate the accessible authoring practices.
It has been difficult to measure how much the accessibility of the Web has increased. Certainly, there are more sites with alt-text than there were before. The following should help indicate how accessible the Web is becoming:
Throughout its charter the WG maintained close contact with other WAI working groups through the WAI Coordination Group. As these groups came on line and progressed through their own agenda, dependencies between and across groups had to be dealt with in timely and effective fashion. The Coordination Group certainly helped in this area, but so too did the cross-membership of many working group participants.
Perhaps the biggest factor in giving the WCAG "new" issues to consider was the dedicated and highly technical work of the Protocol and Formats WG. They have been (and continue to be) instrumental in getting new and accessible features built in to emerging W3C recommendations.
And, while "new" issues may have come from PF, many of the most interesting and difficult issues were brought to us by the incredibly active WAI Interest Group.
It is anticipated that a new charter and a new call for participation will revitalize the WG by:
At the end of the current charter, Chuck Letourneau will step down from the position of co-chair of the working group. Gregg Vanderheiden will remain co-chair with a new co-chair. Wendy Chisholm and Ian Jacobs will continue as editors.
The fields of Web and computer technologies are rapidly evolving. Even short inattention to the techniques and issues around accessibility will severely impact on the ability of persons with disabilities to access the Web. Without an up-to-date and comprehensive reference to work from, page designers and content providers will be unable to meet their obligations to their clients and the public at large.
The charter of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group should be renewed to continued the work needed to make Web Content accessible.
During the approximately 18 months it took the WG to take the first working draft through W3C process to become the first WAI Recommendation, the group dealt with many challenges and contentious issues, always managing to reach the required consensus. For their hard work, we wish to thank the following people who have contributed their time and valuable comments to the working group: Harvey Bingham, Kevin Carey, Chetz Colwell, Nir Dagan, Neal Ewers, Geoff Freed, Al Gilman, Larry Goldberg, Jon Gunderson, Alan Flavell, Eric Hansen, Phill Jenkins, Leonard Kasday, George Kerscher, Marja-Riitta Koivunen, Josh Krieger, Scott Luebking, William Loughborough, Murray Maloney, Charles McCathieNevile, MegaZone (Livingston Enterprises), Masafumi Nakane, Mark Novak, Charles Oppermann, Mike Paciello, David Pawson, Michael Pieper, Greg Rosmaita, Liam Quinn, Dave Raggett, T.V. Raman, Robert Savellis, Jutta Treviranus, Steve Tyler, Jaap van Lelieveld, and Jason White.
Many other people contributed to the working group, and please accept our sincere apologies if your name was inadvertently left off this list.
It is extremely important to acknowledge the ongoing assistance of W3C and WAI staff. They brought their knowledge of W3C process, their technical expertise, and their management skills to bear to help the WG achieve its goals. In particular, we would like to thank Judy Brewer, Daniel Dardailler and Charles McCathieNevile (both were also regular members of the WG), Ian Jacobs, all the people who shared the W3C administration and PR positions, and Tim Berners-Lee without whom none of this would have been possible.
Copyright © 1999 W3C® (MIT, INRIA, Keio), All Rights Reserved. W3C liability, trademark, document use and software licensing rules apply.