1. A sudden gathering of force, as of public opinion: a groundswell of antiwar sentiment.
2. A broad deep undulation of the ocean, often caused by a distant storm or an earthquake.

I think, of course, that definition number one is most applicable here. What I’m finding particularly interesting about the recent surge in public commentary on WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 is how late it is in coming. This eleventh hour response, coming just days before the May 31st deadline for comments on the working draft document, seems somewhat tardy.

The document has been in progress since January 25th, 2001. Now, of course I can see why there was no need, at that time, for a huge response. At that time, and through most of the period of WCAG 2.0 development, the document was simply an acknowledgement that WCAG 1.0 was insufficient. The abstract of that first edition states:

Primarily, this is the first attempt to write checkpoints that may be applied to a wider range of technologies and that may be understood by a more varied audience. Since this Working Draft builds on WCAG 1.0 it has the same aim: explain how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities.

At that time, their goals were straightforward and clear. The simple statement of the abstract was to make checkpoints have broader applicability and to make them more easily understood. In the second version, of August 24, 2001, they in fact state explicitly their goal "to use wording that may be understood by a more varied audience".

So far, so good. However, in the version of June 30th, 2005 a significant change appears in the abstract. This version no longer commits to a more understandable document. I’ll provide this abstract version in full:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) covers a wide range of issues and recommendations for making Web content more accessible. This document contains principles, guidelines, success criteria, benefits, and examples that define and explain the requirements for making Web-based information and applications accessible. “Accessible” means to a wide range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning difficulties, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech difficulties, and others. Following these guidelines will also make your Web content more accessible to the vast majority of users, including older users. It will also enable people to access Web content using many different devices – including a wide variety of assistive technology.

WCAG 2.0 success criteria are written as testable statements that are not technology-specific. Guidance about satisfying the success criteria in specific technologies as well as general information about interpreting the success criteria are provided in separate documents. An Introduction to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Working Draft Documents is also available.

Until WCAG 2.0 advances to W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Recommendation, the current and referenceable document is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0), published as a W3C Recommendation May 1999.

Try as you might, you can read no indication that this document will aim to be understandable. This is a significant and crucial change in goals. At this time, you might expect a protest to begin. Still; the drafts were a long way from being completed, and there was no real reason to see the full consequences of this change. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.

Unfortunately, this revision of the web content accessibility guidelines has been in progress for such a long time that an expectation of completion has been difficult to ascertain. Finally, now that they have announced last call, the community becomes aware that THIS document is the one we’ve been waiting for; and that it does not hold up to scrutiny. The last call working draft of April 26th contains a strong call for comments:

The W3C strongly encourages broad community review of this Last Call Working Draft, and submission of comments on any issues which you feel could present a significant barrier to future adoption and implementation of WCAG 2.0. In particular, we encourage you to comment on the success criteria and the conformance model. Reviewers are encouraged to provide suggestions for how to address issues as well as supportive feedback and endorsements of the document.

Although the surge of commentary in the last few weeks may be late in coming, we can only hope that the committee is sincere in there request and acknowledges the extensive criticism the document is now receiving.

Further reading on WCAG 2.0 as of this week:


  • wcag 2.0
  • accessible web design
  • w3c
  • web standards