[Irl-dean] WCAG 2

Barry McMullin mcmullin at eeng.dcu.ie
Wed May 31 22:58:15 IST 2006

On Wed, 31 May 2006, Tim Culhane wrote:

> Note firstly that I haven't  read the actual WCAG 2.0 documents,  since I
> don't haven't to have a free couple of days at the moment.  Given this I am
> taking Mr. Clarke at his word,  and I'm assuming what he says is true and
> accurate, and not just the output of somebody who has a personal axe to
> grind.

Um ... to Tim (and others) I would have to recommend against
taking Joe Clark "at his word".  He certainly does have axes to
grind.  I would say that there is some good sense and validity in
what he says about WCAG 2.0, but it should certainly not be
accepted uncritically either.

For example:

> 6. You'll be able to define entire directories of your site as
> off-limits to accessibility (including, in WCAG 2’s own
> example, all your freestanding videos).

Yes this is true (in a sense); but it is *not* new with WCAG 2.0.
WCAG 1.0 always allowed a site operator to specify the "scope" of
any conformance claim.  Further, given that WCAG, per se, is
simply a voluntary guide, this is simply common sense.  If, for
whatever reason, a site operator can't or won't make certain
parts of a site conform with WCAG, they should not be
*discouraged* from making all the *other* parts conform.  And
that's as far as WCAG can reasonably go.

But be clear that, where a site operator goes down that route,
they can no longer claim that the "site" conforms to WCAG (1.0 or
2.0).  They can only claim that some, clearly identified part(s)

The significance - and acceptability - of that, then depends on
the specific reasons for the site operator being interested in
WCAG conformance at all.  But to take our local case, if the NDA
Code of Practice on the Disability Act 2005 is actually endorsed,
then that would, for most practical purposes, mean that Irish
public sector websites are required to conform to WCAG 1.0
Double-A. Period.  Not some parts of the sites, but the full
sites.  But *that* requirement is - quite properly - not dictated
by WCAG itself, but by the particular local situation,
legislation, etc.

To take a different case: imagine a commercial talk radio station
that decides to make selected programmes available as podcasts
via their web site.  They are not a public sector body so the
Disability Act 2005 does not apply.  But the Equality Act (for
example) does, and they must not discriminate on grounds of
disability.  WCAG 1.0 conformance would require them to make (at
least) transcripts of the podcasts available.  Note that this is
a completely new requirement, that their "primary" business
(broadcast radio) does not require.  But, generating transcripts
could be a quite significant additional financial burden in that

So what should the station do?  One option would be to simply not
provide the podcasts at all! If they don't provide the audio,
they have no obligation to provide transcripts, and could achieve
WCAG conformance in the narrow, artificial, sense.  But I'm
presuming that nobody would consider that a reasonable solution
(?).  It would simply deprive a huge number of people - including
many with a wide variety of disabilities - of a very useful

Another option would be for them to, in good faith, consider how
much (if any) transcripting they could "reasonably" afford to do;
but to then explicitly exclude the remaining podcasts from their
claim of WCAG conformance.

Would this be legal?

Quite possibly - the Equality Act requires "reasonable"
accommodation - but no more than that.  In practice, if someone
complained, the site operator would have to make a case for why
their behaviour is "reasonable", but, if they can show that they
didn't act arbitrarily - that they are aware of the limitation
(which of course they must be, if they explicitly restrict the
scope of their WCAG conformance claim) - and that they made a
genuine, good faith, assessment of what they could "reasonably"
afford to do, then, at the very least, they would have a
"reasonable" defence to any complaint of discrimination.

So, in my opinion, "non-discrimination" should not mean that we
cannot deliver a service to "anybody" unless we deliver it
("equally"?) to "everybody", regardless of what burden that may
involve. Perhaps not everyone here will agree with me on this;
but, while I do have some worries about abuse of the "reasonable
accommodation" test, I also sincerely believe that it does a
disservice to the equality cause to pretend that we live in a
world without such dilemmas and judgement calls.

Anyway, the point here, of course, is not to say whether in fact
the particular choice in this example would be legal (or, indeed,
ethical, which is a somewhat different thing). It's simply to
show that *WCAG* can't be expected to deal with every possible
such situation.  WCAG is just guidance on what would be "best
practice": no more and no less.  It cannot, in itself, compel
anybody to do anything.  So it would make no sense whatever for
WCAG to *insist* on an "all or nothing" kind of conformance.

To take the example above again, surely we do *not* want to say
to the radio station: "Look, your podcasts (without transcripts)
mean your web site cannot conform to WCAG, therefore you might as
well ignore WCAG completely!"  It would surely be much better to
be able to say: "Well, you have made a good faith decision that
you cannot afford to meet this particular WCAG guideline, for
these particular resources.  I may (or may not!)  agree with your
decision there.  BUt I would certainly *still* advocate that you
make *everything else* on your site conform to WCAG!"

OK, I've gone on at some length to tease out that example (and,
lest anybody has missed my usual disclaimer, "I am not a lawyer
and none of this is legal advice"!).  You may or may not agree
with me, but that is not really the issue.  My point is simply
that Clark (in his inimitable style) has taken something that is
genuinely part of WCAG 2.0 (well, actually, part of WCAG 1.0),
but presented it in a simplistic, out-of-context way, that makes
it seem just silly.  Whereas, in fact, it is trying to address
something which is complex, subtle, and hard to deal with.  One
may or may not agree with everything in WCAG 2.0 (I also have
doubts or concerns about some aspects of it); but it is unfair to
imply that the WCAG working group are somehow completely
mis-guided or out of touch.  They are not, and every single line
of WCAG 2.0 *has* already been subject to long and critical
study.  They may still have got it wrong, but certainly not
"casually" so!

Of course, the real sting in the tail of Clark's piece is his
proposed "solution" - being to put together a self-selecting and
secret band of "experts" to put together a "WCAG 1.1" instead.
Now I am as impatient as the next person with the delays and
cumbersome process that WCAG 2.0 has been subject to. I am also
uncomfortable as to whether W3C is really an appropriate body to
be doing this anyway (it is very hard for W3C to avoid at least
the *appearance* that its commercial sponsors may have an
inappropriate influence).  But, imperfect as it is, I certainly
would not swap it for the kind of process Joe Clark proposes!

Best - Barry.

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