The new WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines and Internet documents

Mireia Ribera

Citación recomendada: Mireia Ribera. 0 accessibility guidelines and Internet documents [en linea]. "Hipertext.net", num. 7, 2009. <http://www.hipertext.net>

  1. Introduction
  2. The four accessibility principles
  3. The guidelines
    3.1. (1.1) Text alternatives for non-text content
    3.2. (1.3) Adaptable
    3.3. (1.4) Distinguishable
    3.4. (2.1) Keyboard accessible
    3.5. (2.4) Navigable
    3.6. (3.1) Readable
    3.7. (4.1) Compatible
  4. Beyond WCAG
    4.1. Compilation of recommendations
    4.2. Information literacy
  5. Conclusions
  6. References

Mireia Ribera
http://bd.ub.es/pub/ribera/
School of Library and Information Science . Universitat de Barcelona

10000000000000FA000001299ECA3972

Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at the Universitat of Barcelona, in the bachelor's degree and in the Master's in Digital Content Management, teaching a course on usability and accessibility. She is also participating in the Master's in Human-Computer Interaction at the Universitat de Lleida, in the introductory and advanced accessibility courses. Her research areas of interest are digital accessibility, having coordinated the translation of the W3C WCAG 1.0 and now working in the translation of WCAG 2.0 into Catalan. She specialises in accessibility of digital documents, XML and other formats.

 

1. Introduction

In the information society, access to information is a right and a need. If we rely on the internet to learn, work and deal with the government, to buy and sell, to listen to music, to play games or to contact with our loved ones, it is only natural that the governments regulate the right of everybody, without exclusions, to access web content.

At an international level, the World Wide Web Consortium has been the organism in charge of establishing accessibility criteria for web content, authoring tools or user agents (mainly web browsers), publishing a set of guidelines within the framework of Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). From all these documents, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), relating to web content, have been the most widespread, since many countries have adopted them as legal rules for public websites [Meinhardt, 2005].

In Spain, legislation may not rely on guidelines not published by an official standardization body; thus the WCAG 1.0 [World Wide Web Consortium 1999] had to be rewritten in the official UNE 139803:2004 Standard. Once the UNE Standard was published, two laws were issued which  came to application from the 31 December 2008: Real Decreto 1494/2007, from 12 November, which approves the Reglamento sobre las Condiciones Básicas para el Acceso de las Personas con Discapacidad a las  Tecnologías, Productos y Servicios Relacionados con la Sociedad de la Información y Medios de Comunicación Social, and the Law 56/2007, from 28 December, on Measures to Promote the Information Society (LISI), which force respectively all public organisms and companies like banks, travel agencies, insurance companies and basic service companies (gas, water and electricity) with more than 100 workers or an upper turnover to 6 million Euros, to fulfil level AA of the WCAG 1.0 Standard

On 11 December, 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium, after years of discussion and changes, was able to publish the WCAG 2.0 guidelines [World Wide Web Consortium, 2008]. Even though they currently have not been incorporated into Spanish legislation, it is in process and administrative agencies and private companies should start developing their web content with WCAG 2.0 guidelines in mind.

One of the most important changes that the new standard makes is its application on all types of web content, not only HTML documents. More than ever, the new accessibility guidelines for web content make all web documents on the internet susceptible for evaluation in terms of accessibility. Adobe PDF files, Microsoft Power Point presentations and Microsoft Word documents, the most common formats for Internet documents, must comply with the four accessibility principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

In this article we are going to see accessibility requirements applicable to Internet documents according to the WCAG 2.0, December 11, 2008 recommendation , commenting on the problems and solutions, based on the author's experience and other existing recommendations.

 

2. The four accessibility principles

The WCAG 2.0 is organised around 4 theoretical principles that aim to guarantee content access. Each of these principles is expanded on into guidelines that describe how to establish these principles into requirements. Finally, for each guideline they describe one or more of the successful criteria, enabling us to verify its fulfilment.

The first principle, and the one that affects in the greatest extent to digital documentation states that the content must be perceivable , that is, visible to any person's one or more senses, even if it is a blind user, or one with low vision.

The second principle states that the content must be operable , that is, that any user may perform the necessary interactions with it. If we apply this principle to the most common administrative and business documents, we will see that currently interaction is limited to forms and navigation(internal to different parts of documents; external with links to other network resources).

The third principle states that the content must be understandable , both the information and the interaction. Even though this also completely affects digital documents, it is one of the most difficult to fulfil and evaluate, since amongst the guidelines ´ target audiences there are people with learning disabilities, like dyslexia, or people with cognitive limitations. However, we will see how the WCAG establishes some minimum criteria for compliance.

Finally, the fourth principle requires the content to be robust , that is, sufficiently well presented to be read by other readers using different, current and future technologies. For some cases, we can see that to verify the true fulfilment of this aim we must use the third-party readers and assistive technologies to check and see that they perform properly with our documents.

 

3. The guidelines

3.1. (1.1) Text alternatives for non-text content

Text is the easiest format to manipulate : it can be converted into speech with an automatic voice synthesiser; it can be expanded, its colour is adjustable...this is why the first guideline is that images (above all) but also graphs and even complex tables be provided with a text alternative.

The most problematic format in terms of compliance to this guideline is Power Point, since it is aimed at creating highly visual presentations. A good solution for this would be the use of annotations in the presentation itself in order to complete and explain the visual content; once the annotations are created, the program allows for an alternative presentation in Microsoft Word, more accessible for many users (see JISC TechDis).

Paradoxically, as we will see in the last section, Power Point's visual style is a very suitable method for certain cognitive or learning disabilities.

3.2. (1.3) Adaptable

Even though the user may vary the document´s presentation, its content must maintain its meaning. This especially affects internal cross-references: an alternative presentation with a larger font could change page numbering, making references to pg. X lose meaning; a colour change or a missing image could change or lose its associated semantics: ex. the connotation of the colour red or a triangular shape similar to a warning. This is why we must be mindful to create semantic references that do not depend (at least exclusively) on their presentation.

3.3. (1.4) Distinguishable

People with low vision and cognitive disabilities do not perceive colour and require strong contrasts or larger text. This is why this guideline asks that colour not be the only way of transmitting meaning; that there be a minimum contrast between the foreground and background; that the text be adjustable; and that text not be inserted as an image.

In general, the document formats cited offer the ability to change the contrast level and text size easily. However, there are compliance problems with this guideline: company logos on digital documents, which are presented as an image but usually have some text; mathematical formulas and page links which are transmitted via colours. Even though they are beginning to come up with solutions, these are not easily fulfilled.

In terms of logos, one solution is to use a watermark so that they do not appear in expanded presentations; another solution is to design them with SVG or other expandable formats; and above all else, keep in mind the accessibility requirements when designing it. A common confusion is to think that if an image with text has an alternative text, it is accessible. This may be right for blind people, but not for those with low vision, which is a larger demographic and includes the majority of the elderly.

In terms of mathematical formulas, the majority of formats have incorporated MathML, which is highly adaptable and supported by the majority of assistive technologies.

With respect to layout, the only solution is to create clearly structured documents with headers and sections that are readable in other formats.

3.4. (2.1) Keyboard accessible

Some assistive technologies can not execute commands with mouse-like scrolls, double clicks, etc. This is why it is always required make possible to interact with the keyboard.

This requirement is usually complied to without any problems, since the formats presented are usually navigable with a keyboard (without a mouse) both for browsing and in form fields. However, the keyboard sequence (like using the tab key to pass fields on a form) must be in the right order, since often the elements are visually positioned in one order, but differently on a structural level. Specifically, in PDF documents to move from the navigation window to the document's window is neither easy nor known by many users, so it must be explained in the accessibility declaration at the beginning of the document.

3.5. (2.4) Navigable

If we keep in mind that a blind person takes 2 to 3 times as much time than a person with complete vision in reading a document, or that a person with dyslexia suffers from fatigue upon reading long documents, we can begin to understand that our documents must provide mechanisms to skip, advance, go back and navigate through the document easily.

An important part of this guideline is fulfilled simply by creating semantically structured documents via different levels of headers, lists and well structured tables. In order to fully comply with this guideline we must also provide tables of contents, internal navigation links, indexes and other information architecture navigation tools.

Special mention is made for tables since even though they are very useful for presenting a lot of information concisely; they present difficulties for the visually, cognitively and even physically impaired. Furthermore, none of the regular formats facilitate labels for headers and relations within tables. So a lot of thought must go into their proper use and in a few cases it is recommended that two versions of one data document be created: one with tables, usable for the average user, and another without tables, with the same information put in lists or simplified, thus more accessible.

Finally, to maintain the semantic headers and content in Power Point, we must follow the tool´s own style templates, since add-ons, deletions and changes in format tend to alter its structure.

3.6. (3.1) Readable

Even though this is one of the most necessary aspects for a document to be usable and accessible, its difficulty to verify has provoked a more than modest inclusion in the Guidelines.

The only requirement for document readability according to the guidelines is that it indicate the complete document's language, along with the language of its parts if it differs from the general language. Even compliance to this simple requirement is not simple in current formats. For example, PDF does not include many of the existing languages in its interface, and automatic language detection in Word is not very reliable. This is why the author of multilingual documents must pay special attention to these aspects.

Despite not being required in the guidelines, and thus not legally required, for true accessibility clear and precise writing in document texts is a must. In English speaking countries there is even an ideological movement called clear writing which has created a series of recommendations for creating more understandable texts.

3.7. (4.1) Compatible

The content must be compatible as much as possible with current and future technologies. For this, WCAG requires that the documents with structural tags be valid, and that any interactive component have a name, role and value determined via software. The first criteria applies to all formats studied. However, the second does not apply to typical documents, and is designed more for creative controls of Rich Internet Applications (RIA); in both Word and PDF the controls are usually associated to forms and are very standardised.

Verifying the validity of structural tags is not usually an easy task for end users, since it usually requires advanced knowledge of XML code.

PDF documents started providing structural tags with version 1.4. The XML Schema in PDF has been standardised with the ISO-32000-1 open standard and will be expanded on in the new ISO-32000-2 standard, thanks to the work of the PDF/UA committee (UA=Usability and Accessibility), presided by Duff Johnson, the guru of accessible PDFs. The problem nowadays is that the majority of free products that create PDFs either do not create tags, or create them with many errors (including the Microsoft Word 2007 plug-in and the Open Office Writer 3 export); however, version 9.0 of Adobe Acrobat Professional (pay version) offers an interesting accessibility validation tool that enables the creation of quality and valid tags. Even so, to refine the structure, in the end will always be necessary to tweak the code. Other considerations to keep in mind, and which may seriously affect usability, is that tagged PDF documents usually take up much more memory than their non-accessible equivalents. This is why I recommend that two versions of the same document should be published, or the tagged PDFs could be broken up into multiple, reasonably sized files.

For Microsoft Office, starting from Office 2003, but in full swing in Office 2007, all documents follow a XML format, standardised in their latest version with the ISO/IEC 29500-1:2008 open standard. Even so, neither Microsoft Word's nor Power Point's interface facilitate the validation of the document by the end user.

In the case of PDF documents and Open Office XML documents the public XML Schemas allow us to validate Power Point, Word and PDF documents with other XML tools like XML Oxygen, Altova XMLSpy or Open XML.

 

4. Beyond WCAG

As we have already seen, WCAG establishes a first level of accessibility, and helps promote awareness of the barriers that information may present for people with disabilities. As we know, these barriers are also present for ordinary users in extraordinary situations [Newell, 1995], or not so extraordinary situations like searching for information via mobile devices, small screens or badly lit environments, amongst others. Accessible documents would be more usable for users in general.

While the same evaluative character of the WCAG guidelines is a benefit for many organisms that manage information policies, it is also a hindrance for including more widespread, but very important, guidelines in terms of content.

This is why in this last section we will detail, as an example and not comprehensively, some of the most interesting recommendations and guidelines that may be applied to digital documents.

4.1. Compilation of recommendations

In the United Kingdom, JISC TechDis service has for some time been promoting the use of accessible documents in education and libraries. And among other tools and resource compilations, it has created the Accessibility Essentials Series where it describes in an easy to read format how to create accessible PDF, Word or Power Point documents [JISC TechDis]. For example, they recommend the use of Power Point for users with cognitive disabilities.

The aforementioned plain language movement (Plain Language Network) has created several writing guidelines that reduce language complexity. A Spanish author, Daniel Cassany, has spread this practice in Spain and Catalonia, especially with his book La cocina de la escritura [Cassany, 1995].

As an alternative, and at times mistaken for it, the easy-to-read movement uses similar principles but adds other practices aimed at reducing the cognitive complexity of its messages [Guidelines]. See the practical guide created by the Albacete, Spain, City Council [ Ayuntamiento de Albacete , 2007]

Both organisations for the dyslexic and the blind have published several recommendations for increasing document readability. With an in-depth analysis we can see many common elements [Evett, Brown, 2005].

Another field that produces guidelines or recommendations on accessible documents is distance education. For example, the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) published the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines - v.1.0 [CAST, 2008] with practical and simple recommendations that include various guidelines for creating accessible documents.

4.2. Information literacy

As we have seen, documents offer many possibilities in terms of accessibility, but often the final user does not benefit from them simply because he is not aware of the operating system's or reader application´s resources.

This is why the publication of accessible documents on the Internet must be framed within a complete accessibility strategy which includes:

  1. Accessibility declarations on the documents describing their condition, the link to alternative versions in other formats and a brief mention of the accessibility functions supported and how to activate them.

  2. A brief guide on the website or another page describing how to use documents in an accessible fashion.

Finally, and given the capacity to reformulate digital documents, public centres whose target audience does include disabled users should discuss a multi-channel publishing strategy. Their website would offer the option of downloading documents in different versions, formats and variants of these formats (especially large font or high contrasts), suited to each person's abilities or preferences. For full accessibility, the content must also be reformulated, especially for people with cognitive disabilities, using augmented communication principles.

 

5. Conclusions

Throughout this article we have seen how the WCAG establishes a set of minimum criteria to comply with for digital documents available on the Internet, especially detailing their presentation flexibility. The same goes for structuring documents, which is also important, both at an external and internal level, to facilitate navigation and processing with different software tools. However, we noted that in the readability section the WCAG guidelines are cut short in terms of requirements. So we suggest complementary recommendations in order to obtain functionally accessible digital documents, which include the writing guidelines established by the clear writing movement.

Finally, we recommend that institutions and companies with an on-line presence propose document accessibility as part of a global strategy, offering documents in different formats and helping to promote their users´ information literacy.

 

6. References

Ayuntamiento de Albacete. Centro de Recuperación de Personas con Discapacidad Física de Albacete. (2007). 'Como elaborar textos de fácil lectura', <http://www.ceapat.org/mostrarDocumento.do?idDoc=200709070001> [09/03/09]

Cassany, D. (1995) La cocina de la escritura. Barcelona: Anagrama, 1995, 259 p.

CAST. (2008). 'Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines- v.1.0' <http://www.cast.org/publications/UDLguidelines/version1.html> [09/03/09]

Directrices Europeas para Facilitar la Lectura, <http://www.sidar.org/recur/desdi/pau/directriceseuropeas%20para%20facilitar%20la%20lectura.pdf> [09/03/09]

Evett, L.; Brown, D. (2005). 'Text formats and web design for visually impaired and dyslexic readers - Clear Text for All'. Interacting with Computers, v.17, n.4, pp.453-472.

JISC TechDis, <http://www.techdis.ac.uk/> [09/03/09]

Meinhardt, U.(2005). Accessibility Legislation - an Insight. <http://www.sapdesignguild.org/editions/edition9/policies.asp> [09/03/09]

Newell, A.F. (1995). "Extra-ordinary human computer operation". En Edwards, A.D.N. Extra-ordinary human-computer interactions: Interfaces for users with disabilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 3-18.

Plain Language Network, <http://www.plainlanguagenetwork.org/> [09/03/09]

World Wide Web Consortium (2008). Web Accessibility Initiative. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. W3C Recommendation 11 December 2008.<http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/> [09/03/09]

World Wide Web Consortium (1999). Web Accessibility Initiative. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. W3C Recommendation 5 May 1999. <http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/> [09/03/09]



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Last updated 05-06-2012
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