WCAG 2.0 under fire in new research

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Thursday, 4 July 2013 11:33am

Controversial research has been published damning the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as system for achieving equal access to the web for disabled users.

WCAG 2.0 is an internationally used set of criteria aimed at helping web professionals create content which is usable for everyone regardless of disability. WCAG 2.0 is being implemented by Australian federal and state and territory governments under the National Transition Strategy. Following the guidelines has also been endorsed by the Australian Human Rights Commission as a means of ensuring that online content does not discriminate against people with disability. Last year WCAG 2.0 was made an official ISO Standard, establishing its importance globally.

New research, however, has criticised WCAG 2.0, claiming that the guidelines do little to ensure the needs of disabled people online are being met. The study, submitted as a doctoral thesis by André Pimenta Freire at the University of York, researched common problems experienced by blind, partially sighted and dyslexic users online.

Freire research found that compliance to WCAG 2.0 had little benefit for the studied users:

“The findings included the lack of significant differences between the number of user problems in websites that were conformant to WCAG and websites that were not, particularly to partially sighted and dyslexic users, the limited relationship between user problems and measures related to the number of violations of checkpoints/success criteria in WCAG.

The findings also showed that a large percentage of problems encountered by users were not covered by WCAG. Of greater concern was the fact that many problems that were covered by WCAG occurred in web pages that had successfully implemented checkpoints/ success criteria, which were still ineffective to avoid the user problems.” (page 197)

The global accessibility community has reacted strongly to the study. Grant Broome of DIG Inclusion told E-Access Bulletin that “it is difficult for us to imagine how a study of this depth could arrive at such an impossible conclusion.”

Ian Hamilton, a user experience consultant, expressed concerns that the researchers had misunderstood the purpose of WCAG 2.0. “WCAG is to help avoid being unnecessarily excluded because of disability, and not to guarantee that people with disabilities can use a website,” he said.

Readers are encouraged to participate in the discussion taking place on the E-Access Bulletin website.

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