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W3C WAI – 2018 year in review

There are many in the digital access specialist community that view 2018 as a standout year for the work of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This is primarily due to its release of the first update to its flagship web accessibility standard in a decade. However, for the people inside W3C WAI, 2018 is more of a continuation of the work that’s been building over several years, and the ongoing preparation of the work still to come. That said, it’s important to stop and reflect on the achievements every now and then, so as usual at this time of year I’d like to look at the contribution the W3C WAI have made to the lives of people with disabilities in the pursuit of digital inclusion.

WCAG 2.1

The biggest announcement was undoubtedly the release of the Web Content Accessibility Guideline’s (WCAG) 2.1. This saw an additional guideline being added to WCAG 2.0 focusing on ensuring that the use of interfaces other than a keyboard be made accessible and the addition of 12 mostly mobile-focused Success Criteria. Highlights include the addition of responsive design, contrast guidance for elements such as buttons, ensuring the websites work in both portrait and landscape and ensuring that interaction of web content with sensors such as an accelerometer can also be achieved by other means. If you would like to know more you can visit a free WCAG 2.1 resource which can help to incorporate the new standard into work practices. This is a resource I created in partnership with the Centre For Accessibility.

While the standard itself is a significant step forward in addressing the accessibility issues related to the mobile web, a standard is only as good as its adoption. In this regard it’s been encouraging to see significant interest in WCAG 2.1 by governments and organisations in moving to the new standard including the European Union who have formally adopted WCAG 2.1, and an announcement by the Australian Government Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) that it will move to WCAG 2.1 at a future date.

From a digital access work perspective, there’s been a significant uptake in interest with people asking for advice, primarily from the government and education sectors with a notable standout being the Australian Taxation Office who have put a lot of time and effort this year into adopting the new standard. It’s great to see so much enthusiasm.

CAPTCHA note public draft update

While the WCAG 2.1 release has certainly been the headline of W3C WAI work this year, another update that has been receiving a lot of attention relates to a W3C Note on CAPTCHA for which I am one of the Editors. My role is with the W3C WAI Accessible Platforms Architecture (APA) Research Questions Task Force (RQTF) and the work we’ve done this year relates  to the update of W3C WAI advice on the inaccessibility of CAPTCHA.

The purpose of the Note is best described by W3C as follows:

“Inaccessibility of CAPTCHA has been a Working Group Note since 2005. It describes problems with common approaches to distinguish human users of web sites from robots, and examines a number of potential solutions. Since the last publication, the abilities of robots to defeat CAPTCHAs has increased, and new technologies to authenticate human users have come available. This update brings the document up to date with these new realities.”

In July we released our first public draft, and we are likely to release a second draft for comment early in the new year.

As this is the first time I’ve been an Editor for a W3C Note, I’m grateful to my RQTF colleagues who have been supportive as I’ve found my feet during the year and very much looking forward to the continued work as the Note is completed.

Digital Access Business Case resource

The last highlight I’d like to draw your attention to has only just been released. It is a resource titled The Business Case for Digital Accessibility, designed to highlight the rationale for addressing digital access issues within an organisational strategic context.

In the official announcement e-mailed to the WAI Interest Group mailing list, the primary purpose of the resource is to provide guidance on the “…direct and indirect benefits of accessibility, and the risks of not addressing accessibility adequately.”

Features of the resource include guidance on the following topics:

  • Drive Innovation
  • Enhance Your Brand
  • Extend Market Reach
  • Minimize Legal Risk

Given how difficult it can be to argue the case for digital access, this resource is likely to make a tremendous difference for people inside organisations that want to make a case for digital access improvements but struggle to find the best way to do so within a corporate context. The Education and Outreach Working Group are to be commended for such a well-structured, detailed and helpful resource.

The WAI work listed here is by no means a complete list but does give you some idea on the great things taking place in the international community to help people with disabilities get access to online content along with all the benefits that access provides. Many thanks to all the hard-working people involved in W3C WAI and I’m looking forward to continuing my involvement in 2019.

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