WCAG 2.0 Revisited

Joe Clark has kindly responded to some the many questions I raised in my last article. Specifically, he responded to the issues of validation, the baseline, multimedia; abbreviations, jargon and pronunciation, and the WCAG Samurai. I still don’t fully agree with him regarding validity, though I fully understand and accept his point of view. He has satisfactorily responded to the issues regarding multimedia and full-text alternatives, but I still have some questions about the baseline. Before I discuss these issues further, there’s just one thing I’d like to clear up.


Joe seemed to be quite offended by one small statement I made at the beginning: “… his movement against the WCAG Working Group.” As he first commented in my article and then later published on his blog, he’s not against the whole working group and I’d like to apologise for suggesting that he was.

However, I’m not sure why he was so offended by me calling his work, in particular, the WCAG Samurai, a “movement”:

I can barely get the ragtag handful of standardistas in this city together once a month for drinks, let alone run a “movement.”

I thought the WCAG Samurai seemed to fit the definition of “an organized effort by supporters of a common goal”. But regardless of that, I sincerely apologise if this is not the case.


[…] If your baseline is set too high, users will have “recourse to complain that your site is inaccessible to them.”

Sadly, no. The user has no say in the baseline designation at all.

I don’t think the user needs to have a say in the baseline designation in order to complain about inaccessibility. Regardless of what the baseline says, if a user can’t access part of the site for whatever reason, there is nothing to stop them complaining to the organisation about it (unless they can’t even access the contact information). Organisations do have some, at least moral, responsibly towards their users and/or customers to produce content that suits their, and their user’s, particular needs.

However, I’d like to get some clarification on what exactly the problem is with the baseline. Joe’s statements about it being possible to make technologies other than plain HTML, CSS and JS accessible are very well known. Such technologies include tagged PDFs and captioned/audio described videos; but all of a sudden there’s something inherently wrong with a baseline statement that says you require support for PDF or support for MPEG and SMIL.

In response to Bruce Maguire’s claims that PDF is inaccessible because:

[…] the resulting document will only be accessible to those people who have the required software and the skills to use it. […] Requiring a user to upgrade to this extent in order to read a standard document is like designing Web content presentation in such a way that most people will have to buy a new computer in order to read it. […] In any case, some of the PDAs used by blind people have no facilities for accessing PDF files”:

Joe Clark wrote:

  • It’s not like PDFs are the only item on your computer for which you require software and skills. You require both of those to surf the web and use HTML pages.
  • “PDAs used by blind people” need to be upgraded if they don’t understand PDF. Essentially, this objection boils down to “if it doesn’t work with what I’ve already got, it doesn’t work, period.” I guess time does not march on for these people. In that case, I hope you’re enjoying HTML 2.0 and your Geocities homepage.

So, I’m confused. I I understand these two points of view correctly, they seem to be conflicting:

  1. You can’t require support for some technologies (i.e. no baselines)
  2. Many technologies can be made accessible and users are just required to have appropriate software. In such cases, you don’t have to make an equivalent in another format (e.g. You don’t necessarily require an HTML alternative for PDF and so-called full-text alternatives for multimedia are apparently a joke)

Any clarification on this issue would greatly appreciated.

4 thoughts on “WCAG 2.0 Revisited

  1. Not the best comparison, I don’t think. Even HTML 3.2 had some accessibility features, and the now-common HTML 4 and XHTML have more of them. While some of them are optional, and WCAG 2 never makes you use any of them, at least they are present and always have been during the lives of those standards.

    PDF, however, had no tags, no alt texts, no nothin’ until relatively recently. Some of those deficiencies were fixed (the PDF/UA Committee is working on the rest of them), which did indeed require an update of one’s software – in fact, of everyone’s software, authors *and* readers.

    Whereas, in principle, you never needed a new browser to make use of HTML’s accessibility features. Except that – wait for it – I showed that screen readers, the source of Maguire’s complaint, also had to be upgraded just to understand HTML. Hence complaining about upgrading screen readers to use accessibility features that didn’t exist before was, and is, moot.

    I don’t see how this relates to the WCAG 2 baseline proposition at all. And I have not read a convincing defence of that proposition, nor any persuasive evidence that it is resistant to misuse.

  2. Presumably for the baseline concept to work well it would require Governments to set an appropriate baseline for themselves and suggest one for companies?

  3. Much better blog. Perfection should not be a goal, but a foundation.

    My post is inappropriate for this subject, but, hey.

    Remember our back-and-forth last December on your article XHTML is not for Beginners? Well, our dialogue served as a catalyst, resulting in my article XML Can Be For Beginners, Too.

    2 branes intersected last December, creating a proto-universe that, as long as it existed, simulated ours up to about 10**-30 second. Unfortunately, this proto-universe had as much probability of continued existence as the US soccer team has of winning the World Cup. Therefore, I realize this post may disappear as the proto-universe did.

    If so, Lachy, no big deal.

  4. George, off-topic comments or comments for old articles which have had comments disabled, are best e-mailed to me privately.

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