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A survey of Web accessibility and usability

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0

In May 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium in conjunction with the Trace Center prepared the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 1.0. The purpose of the recommendation is to explain how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities, and since its publication it has been the guiding force behind much of the accessibility discussion. The target audience includes page authors, website developers, and the designers of authoring tools. They claim that following their guidelines "will also make make Web content more available to all users, whatever user agent they are using (e.g., desktop browser, voice browser, mobile phone, automobile-based personal computer, etc.) or constraints they may be operating under (e.g., noisy surroundings, under- or over-illuminated rooms, in a hands-free environment, etc.)."

The document was meant to stand alone, so it does not chart the current developments in web browsers or other technologies -- that is left up to the Web Accessibility Initiative. Instead, the WCAG and the associated Checkpoints and Techniques form a complete body of well-researched guidelines for designing accessible Web media independent of rapid changes.

It would be pointless to try to recast the WCAG, as it is a thorough and extensive document. It follows a very logical structure: statement of guideline, rationale behind guideline and the group that benefits from it, and a list of checkpoints that explain how the guideline can be applied in typical scenarios. The checklist breaks the WCAG into elements of highest priority (websites must satisfy these) down to lowest priority (websites may satisfy these). Finally, parallel to the checkpoints there is an in-depth set of Techniques that act as an accessibility tutorial. It is recommended that interested readers read or scan the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines document itself, learn some of the techniques, and begin putting them in practice. There is no need to duplicate them here. However, I will summarize the main points on the checklist and then offer some commentary on how the WCAG differs from the recommendations of the Access Board about Section 508.

Table of contents:

  1. Summary of Guidelines
  2. Comparison to Section 508 Guidelines
  3. Additional Resources

Summary of Guidelines

Source: WCAG 1.0

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Comparison to Section 508 Guidelines

A quick glance back at the Section 508 standards for Web-based applications will raise some questions as to the difference between the Section 508 Guidelines and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The Section 508 standards were issued by a government committee charged with advising federal entities about how to make their sites comply with Section 508 law. In contrast, the WCAG -- while similar in many of its recommendations -- is intended to educate all Web developers and provide an extensive set of guidlines, checkpoints, and how-tos on accessibility. Thus, the WCAG is much broader in scope. In addition, the WCAG is generally more strict than Section 508.

Fortunately, a more systematic analysis of the two documents already exists. Head over to Jim Thatcher's Side-by-Side Comparison site, learn more about the differences between the two, and come back here for more.

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Additional Resources

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, 1.0: Official 1999 W3C recommendation explaining (1) how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities and (2) how to make Web information more available to all users.. The guidelines are intended for Web developers and developers of authoring tools. (large download)

Checklist for WCAG 1.0: An appendix to the Accessibility Guidelines, this document provides a checklist of all official checkpoints from the WCAG, organized by concept. The list is intended to be used as a guide for reviewing and modifying a site to comply with the published Web standards.

Techniques for WCAG 1.0: Gateway for a series of related W3C documents providing HTML and CSS techniques for satisfying the requirements of the WCAG.

Section 508 and WCAG - A Side-by-Side Comparison: Jim Thatcher's thorough analysis of the differences and similarities between these two documents.

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Author: Greg Lanier
This site was originally created as a course project for Comp190 Enabling Technologies, given by Professor Gary Bishop at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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