Although I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the principles of accessibility, the practical definition is challenging to really pin down. Given the widely criticized WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 and the sometimes questionable expectations of Section 508 accessibility guidelines, I’m have to wonder whether a legal accessibility requirement is really practical.

The problem is, to a degree, in the fact that in order to enforceable, the law would have to be very precise about what constitutes "web accessibility". Since experienced web developers can hardly even bring themselves to agree on the subtler details of the subject, it seems possible (and even probable) that a government prepared definition of accessibility would be severely lacking.

Imagine, if you will, that the government criteria for accessibility required the use of the accesskey attribute. (They don’t, but just imagine it.) This would mean that any site I created, in order to be considered legally accessible, would have to incorporate a technology which I firmly believe is detrimental to usability and accessibility.

It would be very unfortunate if any legal guidelines made use of specific technological guidelines, rules, or code functions to define the law. This kind of law making can only stymie continuing technological development and prevent newer or better assistive technologies from being adopted. It’s very unlikely that a viable law would be passed which exclusively relied on this kind of specificity.

However, it’s completely feasible to imagine that a law created to legislate web services could contain some degree of specificity which could get in the way of practical development.

You might say that WCAG 2.0 was actually written like a legal document: devoid of specific technological references and muddled with its own custom language, it obfuscates the specifics in favor of retaining long-term validity. May be of great benefit in law, where constant interpretation is the rule of the game — but less valuable in day to day development activities.

And yet, WCAG 2.0 is missing a lot of crucial pieces of the accessibility pie. All this legal abstraction does not actually create a complete documentation of web accessibility, missing elements such as consideration for cognitive disabilities, for example.

Is it possible to address accessibility with 100% success? Would it be beneficial to create accessibility laws which forced developers to adhere to obsolete or irrelevant guidelines? Perhaps a potential accessibility law would have to err on the side of inaccessibility – only cover those elements which are incontrovertibly significant, such as the use of alternative text for images.

Just something I was wondering today…