Future Accessibility Guidelines-for People Who Can’t Wait to Read Them
Happy United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities! The United Nations have chosen “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda” for this year’s observance. Let’s see how the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines of accessibility past, present, and yet-to-come can help us to follow that goal, and make sure that the websites—and everything else!—that we create can include as many potential users as possible. Guidelines of Accessibility Past The W3C published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 on 5th May 1999, when most of us were playing Snake on our Nokia 3210s’ 1.5” monochrome screens…a very long time ago in technology terms. From the start, those guidelines proved enlightening for designers and developers who wanted to avoid excluding users from their websites. For example, we learned how to provide alternatives to audio and images, how to structure information, and how to help users to find the information they needed. However, those guidelines were specific to the web technologies of the time, resulting in limitations such as requiring developers to “use W3C technologies when they are available […]”. Also, those guidelines became outdated; I doubt that you, gentle reader, consult their technical documentation about “directly accessible applets” or “Writing for browsers that do not support FRAME” in your day-to-day work. Guidelines of Accessibility Present The W3C published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 on 11th December 2008, when most of us were admiring the iPhone 3G’s innovative “iPhone OS 2.0” software…a long time ago in technology terms. Unlike WCAG 1, these guidelines also applied to non-W3C technologies, such as PDF and Flash. These guidelines used legalese and future-proofed language, with terms such as “time-based media” and “programmatically determined”, and testable success criteria. This made these guidelines more difficult for designers and developers to grasp, but also enabled the guidelines to make their way into international standards (see EN 301 549 — Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe and ISO/IEC 40500:2012 Information technology — W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0) and even international law (see EU Directive 2016/2102 … on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies). More importantly, these guidelines enabled designers and developers to create inclusive websites, at scale. For example, in the past 18 months: The updated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 arrived on 5th June last year—almost a 10-year wait for a “.1” update!—and added 17 new success criteria to help bring the guidelines up to date. Those new criteria focused on people using mobile devices and touchscreens, people with low vision, and people with cognitive and learning disabilities. (If you need to get up to speed with these guidelines, take 36 minutes to read “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines—for People Who Haven’t Read Them” and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1—for People Who Haven’t Read the Update.) Guidelines of Accessibility Yet to Come So, what’s next? Well, the W3C hope to release another minor update (WCAG 2.2) in November 2020. However, they also have a Task Force working on produce major new guidelines with wider scope (more people, more technologies) and fewer limitations (easier to understand, easier to use) in November 2022. These next guidelines will have a different name, because they will cover more than “Web” and “Content”. Andrew Kirkpatrick (Adobe’s Head of Accessibility) named the Task Force “Silver” (because the initials of “Accessibility Guidelines” form the symbol of the silver element). The Silver Task Force want the next major accessibility guidelines to: take account of…
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