Today W3C published a First Public Working Draft of the Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) Rules Format 1.0 specification. It defines a common approach for writing test rules for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This allows people to document and share testing procedures, including automated, semi-automated, and manual procedures. This accelerates the development of evaluation and repair tools, based on clearly documented testing procedures.
The ACT Rules Format will be an important step forward in web accessibility evaluation and repair, following many years of prior work. Earlier work conducted at W3C includes the Techniques for Accessibility Evaluation and Repair Tools, which described evaluation approaches used by some tools, and the Evaluation and Report Language (EARL) intended to support data interchange between tools. These were used in the creation of the Accessibility Support Database, intended to be a crowd-sourced repository of information about support for WCAG 2.0 Techniques and in many cases populated with the aid of evaluation tools.
These resources have helped to shape the landscape of web accessibility evaluation, but interoperable results has not yet been achieved. Interoperable evaluation is important because of a large number of policies that require conformance, in some fashion, to WCAG 2.0. When different tools report different results about conformance, site owners and users are confused about the actual conformance status.
To tackle this problem, the Automated WCAG Monitoring Community Group was formed in 2014 to incubate further work. Working together with representatives of many accessibility evaluation organizations, this group has been collecting a set of “rules” that describe concrete and unambiguous testing procedures. To ensure these rules could be understood by any tool, a need for a common framework was identified. The Accessibility Conformance Testing Task Force was formed to develop this framework as a specification, and the ACT Rules Format is the result.
With the ACT Rules Format in place, it will be possible to build an open repository of evaluation rules. Some organizations have already opened up or committed to opening up their repositories. This leads to a better common understanding of the technical requirements for web accessibility.
But before we can dream of such a repository we must first get the ACT Rules Format firmed up. Specifically, how can this help you to share and use testing procedures? Please let us know your thoughts on this document directly via GitHub or email.