Learn about the different standards and guidelines from the W3C to make an informed decision when choosing them for your project.
One of the reasons often given for web accessibility issues not being part of the standard operating procedures for all web professionals is that there is too much confusion about what the rules are and should be.
This is also cited as a reason for the slow development of relevant education, training and accreditation options. It's hard to build effective curricula and assessment structures without a clear set of standards on which to base them.
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — how to make web content and websites accessible.
- Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) — how to make web authoring tools that produce content conforming to WCAG and that are accessible for people with disabilities.
- User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) — how to make browsers and media players accessible, and how to ensure their interoperability with assistive technologies.
These are standards that provide an informed approach to making web content accessible.
ATAG and UAAG are critical parts of this approach. It counts for little to comply with web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) when a web content authoring tool has been built to effectively produce only inaccessible content (ATAG), or a web browser is unable to display content in anything other than an inaccessible manner (UAAG).
WCAG 1.0 was published in 1999, providing a series of checkpoints for web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008. While WCAG 2.0 is certainly more relevant to recent technological advances, its greatest advance over WCAG 1.0 is in not only explaining what form barriers to web access might take for people with disabilities and how those barriers might be addressed but also, and most significantly, how to test whether those barriers have been removed.
It is this testing component, whether automated or by human means, that most serves to bring these guidelines to the level of acceptable standards, and has led governments around the world to adopt WCAG 2.0, if not as formal standards, then as guidelines and benchmarks to inform local policy.
Part of the acceptance has been due to each criterion for the successful implementation of an aspect of web accessibility being given a level of conformance: A, AA or AAA. While compliance with the requirements for AAA conformance might seem daunting, the requirements for conforming to Level A are within the reach of most web professionals.
This structure also allows organisations to set practical timeframes for achieving compliance from a basic to an advanced level.
Your organisation may be among those which have been directed by senior management, a government authority or a funding body to ensure your website is "accessible".
There will almost certainly be local requirement to take into account: municipal council and local government bylaws; state, county and provincial legislation; national and federal legislation; international directives, conventions and agreements.
The variations in assumptions, understandings and implementation requirements that underpin this range of requirements can be difficult to manage, but if you base your accessibility plan around the three levels of conformance built into WCAG 2.0 you are highly likely to not only satisfy most of your other requirements, you are also most likely to understand web accessibility better, account for it better in your policies and business plans and ultimately create a web presence that is truly accessible to people with disabilities.