Thursday, 14 June 2007

WCAG Samurai Errata released


The WCAG Samurai are a mysterious team of web accessibility warriors (mysterious because nobody is supposed to know who they are) led by Joe Clark. The purpose of this secret group was to write an Errata for WCAG 1.0; the oft quoted, but well worn guidelines for web accessibility that have been around since 1999. Joe's contention is that there is no need for WCAG 2.0, largely because the whole process has been dominated by industry and that with a few tweaks here and there, WCAG 1.0 + Samurai is all that is needed to assure accessibility.

Well the first draft of the WCAG Samurai Errata is here.

The process of developing the Samurai errata has been going on over the past year and the draft errata were released at last week's @media event in London.

The Review
There are already a number of reviews popping up as people have found the time to read and review. There were two peer reviews requested by the Samurai:

By Gian Sampson-Wild
By Alastair Campbell

A few more can be found by:

Steve Green
Mel Pedley
Joe Dolson
It only matter is you care
Roger Johansson

...and I'm sure that a few others are being written at this very moment.

The reviewers tend to agree on most things, particularly the overly optimistic dependence on User Agents to get it right (when we know they don't). This is a big problem throughout the Errata as the only people that will lose out because of this poor postulation are the very people that it is designed to help.

Counter productive?

On the whole though, the document is pretty good as it contains some very detailed and practical advice on the treatment of video and audio content. These parts alone make the document a worthwhile read, and I hope that the guys behind WCAG 2.0 are paying attention.

Now while Joe has been quite vocal about WAI and WCAG 2.0, I can't help thinking that there's a little too much WAI bashing in the document itself. Some of the info is useful, but has a deliberate contrary tone. While this makes for good reading, it's not so good for a standards-type document. It tends to leave me wondering whether parts of it are simply based on good practice, or whether it's just a snipe at someone. Additionally, there is an overly sympathetic tone used towards PDF production which probably sprouts from Joe's personal involvement with the PDF/UA Universal Accessibility Committee

There's also a blanket bombing of Priority 3 requirements, which as Steve Green points out in his review includes Checkpoint 2.2:


2.2 Ensure that foreground and background color
combinations provide sufficient contrast when viewed by someone having color
deficits or when viewed on a black and white screen. [Priority 2 for
images, Priority 3 for text].

And also includes the abolition of access keys, something, that I've been fighting hard against based on the fact that I work with people who find access keys useful (a discussion for another time). But the point here is that the errata are very black and white (deliberately) but some shades of grey need to be thought about more carefully.
There are lots of other things I don't agree with, most of which have already been pointed out by others but there is one item though that sticks out as a really, really bad piece of advice:


Do not cause pop-ups or other windows to
appear and do not change the current window without informing the user. (Plain
text is the preferred method of informing the user. The title attribute on a
hyperlink a element can suffice.)

A couple of things,


  1. The title attribute should NEVER be relied upon to convey any information. EVER

  2. "Plain text" rather than "The link text itself" is no-where near enough to inform a user that a link is about to open in a new window.

Steve Faulkner, comprehensively covers the issue in his presentation "The Title attribute - what is it good for?"


I'm surprised that Joe et al feel that title is an adequate device, or perhaps it is seen as a UA issue (which it is not, the issue is far more complex and involves many different considerations including work flow, usability, and modes of activation - a topic for another time maybe).


Political impetus
There's a bit of a space race on at the moment, the community is waiting for a set of workable standards that before the last draft, WCAG 2.0 looked like it was going to fail to deliver, since then, WCAG 2.0 has had a fairly positive reception, although it still has a way to go, it seems to be at least heading back in the right direction. I'm sure that both parties are keen to get their documents out first. I do believe that it's unlikely that the Samurai Errata will get much attention if a workable WCAG 2.0 is released ahead of it. Apart from a few die hard fans, I can't imagine many sites sporting a WCAG + Samurai logo. So early adoption at this stage seems to be the errata's best hope.


Conclusion
I'm glad that the Samurai's errata has been written, It provides a lot of very useful information that can't be had via WCAG 2.0. The style of writing is refreshing and it's an alternative to WCAG 2.0. I'd encourage those that are new to accessibility to read it as it contains so much useful advice, I'd go as far as to say that it will probably help me to form a clearer opinion on some things, particularly where sound and video are concerned, although I'd also feel inclined to point out that the tone of the document is a little political and opinionated and therefore needs to be read with some caution.



112 comments:

Joe said...

In fact, it is very difficult to meet the WCAG Samurai standard for when PDFs are permissible. PDFs for ordinary text-and-graphics documents are, with unusual exceptions, banned. I hardly view this as “overly sympathetic” to PDF. How about “not ideologically opposed”?

And do keep in mind that compliance with WCAG+Samurai is voluntary. If you don’t like its provisions or cannot comply with them, you can pretend they don’t exist.

grant said...

Thanks for dropping by Joe. My perception of the skew towards PDF is due largely to the amount of info regarding PDF and appropriate use etc, that isn't balanced by a view on Flash for instance. I would love to see the errata provide some equivalent levels of info on some other technologies too.

As I've said, I believe that the Samurai document is valuable. It provides clarity on issues that WCAG 2.0 does not. But I can't see it working as a standard I'm afraid, at least, not in it's current form. Good luck with your projects.

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