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Podcast: Interview on WCAG 2

Shawn Henry discussed WCAG 2.0 with UK UPA president Giles Colborne following the UPA conference in June 2006.

Audio files of a series of interviews are available from the UK UPA Web site. Shawn's interview starts at 24 minutes into the audio file.


Giles: Elsewhere in the conference I bumped into Shawn Henry of the Worldwide Web Consortium, the guiding body of the Web. I called her after the conference to ask about the new guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative, or WAI, known as WCAG 2.0. I began by asking her why we needed an update when most people haven’t yet got to grips with the current guidelines.

Shawn: WCAG 2.0 will be much more appropriate for current and future Web development. WCAG 1.0 was finalized in May of 1999 and it focused on HTML. Obviously a lot has changed since then. WCAG 2.0 is focused on applying more broadly to different technologies and is updated for the state of Web technology currently, as well as designed so that it can apply more relevantly as technology develops in the future.

Giles: Are you talking about AJAX?

Shawn: Absolutely. Those types of things are definitely considered both within WCAG 2.0 as well as in some additional development going on in the W3C WAI. We have a group focusing specifically on accessibility issues with dynamic Web applications.

Giles: Anyone who’s read the old guidelines will find themselves on unfamiliar territory with this new draft. What’s your advice to them?

Shawn: It is different from WCAG 1.0. We have already some additional materials that will help in understanding and applying WCAG 2.0 and we plan to have even more. For example right now we have the Quick Reference for WCAG 2.0. That lists the guidelines and success criteria along with the techniques that are sufficient to meet those success criteria. So if you look at the guidelines with that view, then seeing the techniques along with the success criteria helps the developer understand the intent of the success criteria and how to develop to meet those success criteria. We also have a document called Understanding WCAG 2.0. This is something that we didn’t have with WCAG 1.0. It provides answers to a lot of the questions that people have with WCAG 1.0. It includes sections like: what is the intent of this guideline and success criteria. It will help people know what the Working Group meant, and what’s the reason for this guideline or success criteria. And it has sections on what are the common failures so you can see, “Oh, this is how people usually mess up here”, and a section on how this helps people with disabilities. So already we have a lot of supporting information that will really help people use, understand, interpret, and implement WCAG 2.0. And we have planned additional documentation especially aimed at people who are more new to accessibility and doing more basic Web development. We’ll continue to provide materials both for advance cutting edge things like AJAX accessibility as well as more materials for people who are more basic and more new to it.

Giles: The guidelines are longer than before, but that seems to be in part because they’re less ambiguous. Were you trying to make them more testable?

Shawn: This is something that has been an issue, primarily with governments wanting to adopt WCAG into policy: is that they weren’t testable [enough]. That’s definitely a primary motivation for some of the re-writing that we’ve done. Also note that you’ll still need knowledgeable humans to evaluate some of the success criteria. When we say “more precisely testable”, part of that is more precisely testable by machine, by software, but that still doesn’t replace humans — as anyone who’s familiar with evaluating accessibility knows, you do and will still need a knowledgeable human in order to evaluate.

Giles: What do you say to people who claim you’ve not paid enough attention to cognitive disability?

Shawn: We’ve had some really good feedback on that issue recently, during this comment period on WCAG 2.0, which is exciting, to increase the dialogue in that area. It’s one of the issues that we’re actively looking at.

Giles: The comment period for the guidelines closed on the 22nd of June. Does that mean people have missed the boat?

Shawn: WCAG 2.0 itself is the document that is to become a W3C Recommendation or standard, and that has a much more formal comment period. That’s the one that ends on the 22nd. There will likely be additional comment periods in the future for that and for the other documents, which will be Working Group Notes or W3C [WAI] Resources. They have an open comment period; so there’s still opportunity to comment on those and the comment formats will remain open. We’ll have some active calls for review for those coming up in the future as well. So I would say you can comment now and you can also look for additional calls for comment/review in the future. Those will be posted on the W3C WAI home page as well as the WAI Interest Group mailing list.

Giles: And you can find out more about WCAG 2.0 at www.w3.org/wai [and in the Overview of WCAG 2.0 Documents at http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag20].