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New W3C Web Standard Defines Accessibility for Next Generation Web

On Dec. 11, 2008 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced a new standard that will help Web designers and developers create sites that better meet the needs of users with disabilities and older users. This is the culmination of a ten-year collaborative effort with the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), for which the Trace Center provided leadership and significant support.

Drawing on extensive experience and community feedback, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 improve upon W3C's groundbreaking initial standard for accessible Web content. This new standard will advance accessibility across the full range of Web content (such as text, images, audio, and video) and Web applications. WCAG 2.0 can be more precisely tested, yet it allows Web developers more flexibility and potential for innovation. Together with supporting technical and educational materials, WCAG 2.0 is easier to understand and use.

People with visual, auditory, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities, and many older Web users will benefit from implementation of WCAG 2.0. The new standard explains how to overcome common barriers to accessibility by making Web content:

  • Perceivable (for instance, by addressing text alternatives for images, captions for audio, adaptability of presentation, and color contrast);
  • Operable (by addressing keyboard access, color contrast, timing of input, seizure avoidance, and navigability);
  • Understandable (by addressing readability, predictability, and input assistance); and
  • Robust (for instance, by addressing compatibility with assistive technologies - such as screen reader software).

Wide Support and Far-Reaching Impact

"Because WCAG 2.0 applies to all Web technologies, it can help ensure that the Web stays open to people with disabilities even as we continually introduce new technologies. We incorporated feedback from thousands of comments received during the development of WCAG 2.0 regarding user needs and technical feasibility," said Dr. Gregg Vanderheiden, Trace Center Director and Co-Chair of the WCAG Working Group. "WCAG 2.0 represents the outcome of a major collaborative effort, and its final form is widely supported by industry, disability organizations, research and government. This balance is important in order for WCAG 2.0 to serve as a unifying international standard for Web accessibility."

"Web accessibility helps us reach a broader audience by supporting access to the Web for people with disabilities, as well as increasing usability across a variety of mobile devices," explained Loretta Guarino Reid, Co-Chair of WCAG WG and Google Accessibility Engineer. "The Web community helped us demonstrate successful use of WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.0 test procedures in diverse types of Web technologies, Web content, interactive applications, and natural languages. These trial implementations also show the continuity between WCAG 1.0 and 2.0, as most Web sites that conformed to WCAG 1.0 did not need significant changes to meet WCAG 2.0."

While WCAG 1.0 was adopted widely, there is even broader interest in adoption of WCAG 2.0 by organizations and governments worldwide. "In the recently passed United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, access to information and communications technologies is for the first time recognized internationally as a human right," according to George Kerscher, Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium. "WCAG 2.0 will help to make access to information a reality around the world."

Current and recent participants in the WCAG Working Group include Adobe, AOL, Google, IBM, International Webmasters Association/HTML Writers' Guild, Microsoft, NIST, SAP, Vision Australia, and individual invited experts from research, disability, government and standards organizations in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States. In addition, the extensive public review process resulted in comments from hundreds of organizations and individuals around the world.

Contributions of the Trace Center

The Trace Center has been a leader and key contributor in the development of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. WCAG 1.0 (adopted in 1999) was based on the Unified Web Accessibility Guidelines developed by the Trace Center. Gregg Vanderheiden, Trace Center Director, has been co-chair of the WCAG Working Group since its inception. Vanderheiden and Ben Caldwell, Trace Center Web Accessibility Specialist, are co-editors of WCAG 2.0, along with Loretta Guarino Reid (Google, Inc.) and Michael Cooper (W3C). Wendy Chisholm, previously of the Trace Center, served as co-editor and W3C staff contact for most of the development of WCAG.

The Trace Center has also sponsored or developed quantitative measures and freely available tools in support of WCAG 2.0's provisions around seizure prevention, visual contrast and audio contrast. Trace is also co-leading a new initiative based on WCAG 2.0 to ensure that all users, including those with few or no resources, can access tomorrow's Web content and services from anywhere, on any computer.

Continuing support for Trace's work on Web accessibility has been provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education, under grants H133E980008, H133E030012, and H133E080022.

For More Information

  • W3C Press Release
  • Testimonials includes statements from the U.S. Access Board, Adobe, American Association of People with Disabilities, European Commission for Employment, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities, Microsoft, Unesco, and 25 others.
  • The WCAG 2.0 Documents provides an overview of WCAG and its supporting documents.
  • WCAG 2.0 Implementation Report summarizes satisfaction of the Candidate Recommendation Exit Criteria, including a list of implementers and evaluators.
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