The first accessibility testing tools and methodologies emerged soon after first publication of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in 1999. Already back then some of these implemented slightly different interpretations of WCAG. For example, a method may mistakenly fail text alternatives that are too long when that is not actually defined by WCAG. Another method may correctly mark that as a warning because it is advisory good practice. At the end, following one method could yield different results from following another.
This is not good. People trying to follow WCAG are confused by such conflicting results and waste a lot of valuable time trying to resolve these conflicts rather than actually implementing accessibility. It also reduces credibility and sheds negative light on accessibility overall. It is something that W3C and others have been trying to address for literally decades now.
For many years it seemed like developers of accessibility testing tools and methodologies protected the interpretations that they spend time and effort evolving. Using a uniform set of test rules seemed like losing the competitive edge and potentially losing out on business. Yet that is not true and the overall mindset in the field seems to be changing. More transparency, reliability, and credibility benefits everyone.
This is basically what the work on Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) is about. Several developers of accessibility testing tools, testing methodologies, and other experts came together to develop a specification that defines a common format for writing test rules — the ACT Rules Format 1.0 specification.
Today ACT Rules Format 1.0 is a stable draft (called W3C Proposed Recommendation) with examples of ACT Rules being continuously developed by the W3C ACT Rules Community Group (CG). Hopefully some of these rules will soon be formally published by the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG), along with the final version of the specification as a completed W3C standard.
While this only one more step of many along the long road towards harmonizing accessibility testing, it marks an important milestone. We now have a stable draft with demonstrated implementations, which you can help complete and leverage:
- If you are a developer of accessibility testing tools and methodologies or interested in this field, consider joining the W3C ACT Rules Community Group (CG) to help develop and review test rules
- If you use accessibility testing tools and methodologies, consider asking your vendor or developer how they implement ACT Rules developed by the community group
- If you have comments on the ACT Rules Format 1.0 specification, consider commenting by 24 September 2019 at the latest
- If you work for a W3C Member organization, consider asking your W3C Advisory Committee (AC) Representative if your organization supports the publication of this specification as a completed W3C standard
- If you support accessibility, consider spreading the word on this work on harmonizing accessibility testing
This work, in particular the development of ACT Rules through the W3C ACT Rules Community Group (CG), is supported EC-funded WAI-Tools Project. I want to take this opportunity to thank the funders and the many pioneers in past and recent efforts to make this work happen.