Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design


Section 508: WCAG 1.0 or WCAG 2.0?

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Timeline for the adaption of WCAG 2.0 as the new Section 508 law.


In short: WCAG 1.0, at least for the next couple of years.

Standards Compliancy - Pro's and Con's.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are a final Web Standard "W3C Recommendation" and offer many advantages over WCAG 1.0. Blogs like Opera Developer Network suggest to use WCAG 2.0 rather than 1.0 because "[it] is easier and clearer to use, contains test statements (known as Success Criteria), can be applied to all web technologies (and not just W3C technologies like WCAG 1.0) and comes with lots of supporting documentation".

Standards compliancy will benefit your project in many ways, from code maintenance (faster code review/debugging) and repurpose (separate content from presentation) to bandwidth (master stylesheet helps reducing size of individual pages).

On the flip-side standards add load and thus expenses to projects and developers and are controversial in many cases.

Section 508 is a US law

Philosophy aside, Section 508 is a US law that renders above discussion obsolete and needs to be taken seriously. Not directly related but still a wake-up call is Target's non-compliance with the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code §§ 51 et seq., the Disabled Persons Act, California Civil Code §§ 54 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181 et seq. which resulted in a six million dollars settlement this month. Sorry to get you down to earth so quickly.

Timeline for Section 508 to adapt WCAG 2.0

Gregg Vanderheiden:

508 is undergoing a revision over the next couple years.

The first stage of that was an Advisory committee (TEITAC) that came up with recommendations

The advisory committee contained several WCAG Working group members and both TEITAC and WCAG worked together to harmonize. And, though they weren't completely harmonized (since both changed a bit at the end) all comments from members to access board were to continue harmonization in further steps.

Jim Tobias:

The Access Board's advisory committee on 255/508 (TEITAC) recommended that any new regs harmonize with WCAG 2.0, and the report's own proposed provisions themselves were pretty well harmonized, as Judy Brewer, Gregg Vanderheiden, and others from WCAG were on TEITAC. Expect Access Board action in 2009. View the report here:

Scott Plumlee:

Short version is that the recommendation is that 508 be harmonized with WCAG 2.0. You can subscribe to updates from the Access Board (I think, I can't find the link now) at access-board.gov. If you allow 2.5 years from the turning in of the report to the actual date the new guidelines take effect, look for 2011 or so. IIRC, the 2.5 years is how long it took for 508 to really go into effect the first time, but I could be wrong.


Don't get me wrong, W3C WAI (and myself) recommends using WCAG 2.0, instead of WCAG 1.0 but to satisfy the law one needs to comply with WCAG 1.0.

That doesn't mean your company shouldn't prepare for the transition, not at all. To help you move to WCAG 2.0, WAI currently offers the following tutorials/articles:

What are your experiences?


Web Content Accessiblity Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0: Overview and Structure

Posted by Michael Gaigg


Last week the W3C announced the publishing of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as a final Web Standard "W3C Recommendation". This is good news for many reasons:

  • Guidelines are more specific, e.g. specifying contrast ratio or time-based actions in seconds.
  • Success Criteria are written in a technology neutral fashion.
  • Success Criteria are written as testable statements.
  • Past killer arguments like "Javascript is forbidden" are now included as a technique to enhance accessiblity.
  • Gathering 'implementation experience' is now part of the W3C Process.
  • Guidelines include requirements related to informing users of data entry errors.
WCAG 2.0 Overview showing Principles, Guidelines, and Success Criteria (Level A, Level AA, Level AAA).

WCAG 2.0 Overview showing Principles, Guidelines, and Success Criteria (Level A, Level AA, Level AAA).

But what I personally like the best is the revamped structure called layers of guidance:


The four principles of Web accessibility: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

The four principles of Web accessibility: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

The WCAG 2.0 define a logical hierarchy of accessibility guidelines called layers of guidance. All of these layers work together to provide guidance on how to make content more accessible.


The foundation is built on four principles that are essential for anyone to access and use Web content, i.e. every Web content must be:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

These principles are the four pillars of Web accessibility and describe at a high level what can be done to assist users with varying needs to successfully access your content.


The 12 WCAG 2.0 Guidelines provide basic goals for creating accessible content.

The 12 WCAG 2.0 Guidelines provide basic goals for creating accessible content.

The 12 guidelines are basic goals that authors of Web content should work toward in order to create accessible content. None of them are testable and are only meant as a framework of overall objectives. The guidelines are:

  • 1.1 Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • 1.2 Provide alternatives for time-based media.
  • 1.3 Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
  • 1.4 Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
  • 2.1 Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  • 2.2 Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  • 2.3 Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
  • 2.4 Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
  • 3.1 Make text content readable and understandable.
  • 3.2 Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • 3.3 Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • 4.1 Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

Success Criteria

WCAG 2.0 Success criteria shown in three column: column 1 (red) are Level A, column 2 (yellow) are Level AA, column 3 (green) are Level AAA.

WCAG 2.0 Success criteria shown in three column: column 1 (red) are Level A, column 2 (yellow) are Level AA, column 3 (green) are Level AAA.

Now, the success criteria is where the meat is. For each Guideline, testable success criteria are provided. Every Web content or series of Web content (complete web page or series of connected pages) can be tested and evaluated against these criteria and further assigned a true/false (equals pass or fail) value.
These success criteria are further divided into three levels of conformance, meaning satisfying all the requirements of a given standard, guideline or specification:

  • Level A (lowest; minimum level of conformance)
  • Level AA
  • Level AAA (highest)

The notion of conformance is so important that I will discuss it in a separate blog entry.

Sufficient and Advisory Techniques

Up until now all the principles, guidelines, and success criteria are written in a technology neutral fashion. That's great but what now? The Working Group has identified and published examples for HTML implementations that should serve as examples and tutorials and are kept in the living document called Techniques for WCAG 2.0. This document explains a variety of techniques on how to implement the given guideline for each success criteria. The list is not complete and will be expanded as new techniques are discovered.

The techniques fall into two categories:

  • Sufficient techniques: considered to be sufficient to meet a success criteria.
  • Advisory techniques: enhance accessibility, but did not qualify as sufficient techniques.

Most Success Criteria have multiple sufficient techniques listed. Any of the listed sufficient techniques can be used to meet the Success Criterion. Also there may be other techniques which are not documented by the working group that could also meet the Success Criterion. This is especially true for content that is not HTML.

Resume & Criticism

I'm really excited about the WCAG 2.0, their clear structure and promising, almost marketing-like wording. I also like the amount of effort taken to document examples, techniques and common failures.
What I miss is the programmer perspective that outlines each element with its associated success criteria and code samples, e.g. how can I make tables accessible, what about links, captcha, maps, etc.? I think this work is up to us and I will continue to tackle this issue by grouping, summarizing and compiling elements so I can publish them on this blog.

What are your opinions on WCAG 2.0?