Coding with Jesse

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

November 24th, 2005

As announced yesterday in the W3C News:

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Working Group has released Working Drafts of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and HTML Techniques for WCAG 2.0 and a First Public Working Draft of Understanding WCAG 2.0.

Unlike many W3C documents, these are actually quite readable and useable right away. They make some great points, some of which surprised me a bit. Web accessibility is often reduced to screen-reader functionality. This document goes quite a bit outside that narrow view and ensures that the web is fully accessible to users with a wide range of disabilities. These includes learning difficulties, cognitive limitations, speech difficulties and others.

As a result, following the advice in these documents seems like it would enhance the usability of the web for all users, even those without disabilities. Here are some of the more interesting points I noticed in these documents.

  • Guideline 2.5 - Help users avoid mistakes and make it easy to correct them. This is really great, general advice. It suggests validating input, providing context-sensitive help, and offering users a chance to review or possibly undo actions.
  • Guideline 3.1 - Make text content readable and understandable. Again, very useful and general advice that improves usability for all users. It suggests avoiding the use of jargon or words used in an unusual way. Also, the use of simple language summaries or diagrams to explain complex concepts to users with reading ability less advanced than "lower secondary education".
  • H46: Using null alternative text and no title attribute on img elements for spacer or purely decorative images. This makes perfect sense once I read it, but I had never given much thought to this being a real problem. I always thought about empty alt and title tags as a kind of work around. However, putting things like "side" or "blue bar" in alt tags on pure display images would just be annoying and unneccessary to a user with a screen reader.

If you haven't yet, I suggest giving these documents (at least the guidelines and techniques) a quick read. It's good to be reminded now and then of the simple ways we can make the web accessible and usable to everyone.

About the author

Jesse Skinner Hi, I'm Jesse Skinner. I work with development teams to speed up and stabilize web applications, reduce server costs, fix difficult bugs, modernize legacy applications, and improve developer productivity. I'd love to hear from you and see how I can make your life easier.