No, your website ISN'T AAA accessible!

by Dan Zambonini

If I see one more website claiming to
be accessible to a W3C
AAA rating, or one more public sector tender document asking
for one, I'm going to scream like a big girly who's just found out
that she's won a two week holiday to the Maldives. With Brad Pitt.

If you think your website is, then I'm
sorry to tell you - you're almost certainly wrong. And the reason
is: that the WCAG authors only made the AAA rating as a joke.
Well, I'm pretty sure they did.

I'll start off with some of the
checkpoints which are pretty tough, but you could meet (with some

  • 12.3 Divide large blocks of
    information into more manageable groups where natural and

  • 13.8 Place distinguishing
    information at the beginning of headings, paragraphs, lists, etc.

  • 14.1 Use the clearest and
    simplest language appropriate for a site's content.

I'm not sure how you can conform
to these with any degree of certainty, but for the sake of the
argument, I'll assume every piece of your content has been written
and edited perfectly.

  • 3.1 When an appropriate markup
    language exists, use markup rather than images to convey

  • 11.1 Use W3C technologies when
    they are available and appropriate for a task and use the latest
    versions when supported.

These are as equally vague as
each other. Should you be publishing all your diagrams as SVG
rather than GIFs? After all, the SVG markup language exists (3.1 -
tick!), and it is an appropriate (3.1 - tick!) - and accessible
- alternative to any GIF graphs or diagrams.

And if you're publishing metadata
(which you have to, it's another checkpoint), shouldn't you really
make it available in RDF? And shouldn't your multimedia be SMIL?
Do you have your privacy information in a P3P file (after all, IE6
- the most popular browser - supports it)? If not, I'm not
sure you can be certain of your conformance to 11.1

  • 13.7 If search functions are
    provided, enable different types of searches for different skill
    levels and preferences.

Again, a bit vague, but let's
assume that there are three generic types of user: novices,
those of average skill, and advanced. So that's at least three
different types of search I want to see on your AAA website.

And they must have been rolling around
giggling in their little W3C chairs when they came up with this real
doozy of a checkpoint:

  • 11.3 Provide information so
    that users may receive documents according to their preferences
    (e.g., language, content type, etc.)

Even better, the recommended
technique is to use Content Negotiation. Yes, Content
- that wonderful HTTP idea that has been around
since the beginning of time, that everybody agrees makes sense, but
nobody really uses. In my close group of friends, I have people
who are first-language Welsh, Spanish, Japanese and English
speakers. So their preference, when visiting your AAA website, is to
have the content in their native language.

OK, maybe I'm misinterpreting what
these checkpoints mean. But surely the guidelines should have been
written in "the clearest and simplest language" with no
room for ambiguity? Especially as the guidelines
claim to be AAA accessible? (Actually, even without me being awkward
about this dodgy argument, I'd claim that 'R&D' towards the top
of the document constitutes an acronym, that doesn't have an
expansion in the HTML - hence no checkpoint 4.2 compliance. Goes to show how difficult these are to implement consistently.)

Having said all of this, I actually
think that these guidelines are one of the most important web
publications of the last 10 years. No matter how some accessibility
experts may argue, they have provided invaluable guidance and
techniques for the millions of users who can't afford user testing.
Possibly more importantly, they have also raised the profile of
accessibility as a core attribute of the web - it isn't an
addition, but something that sits at the heart of what the web is.

And, in the end, whether you technically achieve an A, AA or AAA is irrelevant, as long as you've made every effort to tackle as many of the accessibility stumbling blocks as possible. I just wish that, some of the public sector in particular, would view accessibility as a real-world problem, and not a points-based award system.


2005-10-06 12:46:36
It's just a claim
I think that's why the use of the badge is just a claim:

"Claims are not verified by W3C. Content providers are solely responsible for the use of these logos."

I do however think it IS possible and don't think that AAA is what most sites should be shooting for. I think that AAA would be better reserved as a target for sites that are specifically designed for use primarily by persons with different abilities.

Also it's possible for very some simple sites to comply to AAA because they don't nessicaraly have any diagrams or multimedia.

And as for good copy editing, well that depends on your audience but if your audience is a person who will befit by AAA then you should be writing in simple and clear way.