WCAG 2 disregards Web standards

We’ve been waiting a long time for an update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines released in 1999. That update is called WCAG 2.0, is supposed to be an improvement, and recently reached Last Call Working Draft status (which I noted in Last Call Working Draft of WCAG 2.0 published).

I have been trying to read WCAG 2 and the documents related to it (Understanding WCAG 2.0 and Techniques for WCAG 2.0). But I just can’t get through them since I find them very hard to make sense of. After reading Joe Clark’s article To Hell with WCAG 2 I breathed a sigh of relief. The problem is not with me. If Joe Clark finds WCAG 2 too difficult for a standards aware web developer to understand, something is seriously wrong with it. Joe’s article is long and detailed, and more or less destroys WCAG 2:

In an effort to be all things to all web content, the fundamentals of WCAG 2 are nearly impossible for a working standards-compliant developer to understand. WCAG 2 backtracks on basics of responsible web development that are well accepted by standardistas. WCAG 2 is not enough of an improvement and was not worth the wait.

I have to agree with Joe. Like I just noted, I haven’t managed to read through WCAG 2 and actually understand it. Much of the document is very difficult to understand, and I am very disappointed by WCAG 2’s apparent disregard for Web standards. For even more details on the problems with WCAG 2, read Joe’s Responses to WCAG 2.0 documents. Joe also notes that we can Abandon all hope of Tim Berners-Lee doing something about the problems with WCAG 2, and issues a Call for response from the Web Standards Project.

Joe Clark is not alone in finding WCAG 2 problematic. According to Lisa Seeman’s Formal Objection to WCAG Claiming to Address Cognitive Limitations, the guidelines also fail to address the needs of people with learning disabilities and cognitive limitations.

WCAG 2 is currently a working draft, so it is possible to submit comments (if only for a few more days – you have until May 31 to do so). However I doubt that it will change in any substantial way before it is made a recommendation. The WCAG 1.0 errata that the secret WCAG Samurai are working on will most likely be a much more usable document in the real world.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Update: The deadline for submitting comments on the WCAG 2.0 Last Call Working Draft has been extended to 22 June 2006. Whether that is a result of Joe’s article or not I do not know.

Posted on May 26, 2006 in Accessibility, Web Standards


  1. That’s part of the reason many people haven’t commented about the Proposals is because it’s so convoluted and not written in an easily digestible manner - thus they don’t always know what to ask or question.

  2. Really, who has the time and stamina to read all those pages? Maybe the blessing come from an unexpected point: W3C is busy with new DOMS to be standarized, and forces browser builders to use a new standarized DOM. At least that is happening right now. So to say that everything you make will work in ALL browsers. One day my friend… one day…

  3. Until W3C don’t throw away that super-formal style of writing specifications thousands of km long, I won’t waste my time reading any of them. Period.

  4. Hearing Joe Clark talk about WCAG 2 saddens and makes me angry all at the same time.

  5. So, you weren’t invited to the WCAG Samurai? Or are you allowed to tell. I thought for sure you’d be a part.

  6. I agree that the language of the documents is difficult - ‘Content must be perceivable’ for example. What does that mean? It is like an Eastern Philosophical question!

    I strongly believe though that we should work together for these standards rather than belittle them. It is a fault of the technical community to pick holes in things and disregard them as a result. These standards are important and having a universally recognised set of standards we can follow is imperative. Not working together will only make things more fragmented.

  7. I’ve read the documentation about WCAG 2.0 and I’m quite disappointed. I hope there will be some improvements in the future, we’ll see the final result.

  8. May 27, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Kevin: Nope, I’m not part of the WCAG Samurai.

  9. After reading your Evaluating Website Accessibility Roger, I had reading the WCAG 2.0 on my ‘to do’ list, but was procrastinating somewhat. Now, however, after reading Joe Clark’s article I doubt that it will ever make it to the top of that to do list. The size of the documents alone is a pretty big hurdle, and if it’s tough, dry reading at that….

    The sad thing is that there are a few good points in there so I am hoping that I can find another way to get them out.

  10. @Nick

    “Until W3C dont throw away that super-formal style of writing specifications thousands of km long, I wont waste my time reading any of them. Period.”

    Yeah that’s the university writing style, it doen’t make any sense while reading it. Looks like they invented an entire new syntax. Frankly i don’t bother to read it anymore, but i do praise the ones who are on it, and are willing to invest time and effort to (hopefully) make them change their minds about it.

  11. May 29, 2006 by Tommy Olsson

    ‘Until W3C dont throw away that super-formal style of writing specifications thousands of km long, I wont waste my time reading any of them. Period.’

    Not everything in life can be dumbed down or presented as Cliff notes. A specification needs to be very detailed, or you cannot verify anything against it. A standard that you can’t verify against is absolutely useless. (That was part of the problem with WCAG 1.0.)

    WCAG 2.0 is a mess. I, too, attempted to read it and make sense of it, and failed utterly. I thought about submitting my comments to the WAI, but all I could think of was, ‘please start over’.

    I hope Joe Clark puts together a good team of ‘Samurai’ and that they fix the outdated parts of WCAG 1.0. That would be a much more useful document for anyone who really cares about accessibility (rather than merely wanting some badges to display on their website).

  12. ‘Standar’ is a concept I have come to fear. They reproduce too fast. Too many standars. Too many new standars. Where’s the sense in that?

    It might only be that I’m plain tired of being forced to learn new standar specifications everyday. I might feel better if I had the chance to develop more and study less.

    I know this doesn’t sound cool but, it is just my humble opinion.

    Regards, David

  13. Nick: Once you get past the necessary boilerplate, the W3C specs are actually not too hard of a read. They’re good about inserting lots of examples and diagrams to follow along with. (Example: CSS 2.1 Visual Formatting Model)

  14. Roger, Joe Clark exaggerates in his article and painfully warps the truth by omission. I have read the guidelines and the related documents, and in major points — like “valid HTML” — he’s just wrong. I can’t say if he wrote that against better knowledge, but I’m very disappointed that his critique is such a bubble of hot air!

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