So farewell then, Joe Clark.
“Approved persons may meet me”.
That was your catchphrase.
Joe is retiring from Web Accessibility, but his WCAG Samurai errata notes are a fitting epitaph. I think they’re an excellent summation of best-practice accessibility, and will serve as canonical guidance until WCAG 2 comes on stream (assuming it ends up fit for purpose). The whole document is a model of clarity; it bans and requires; it doesn’t wuss about ignoring PDF but sensibly bans useless PDFs that should be HTML; it makes the user agent responsible for accessibility as well as the author. Best of all, it requires semantic HTML, while simultaneously treating web authors like grown-ups.
I don’t necessarily agree with everything in there, but as the whole basis of the document is empowering web authors to make intelligent decisions, and as every project and client is different, there will of course be differences in the measure of “accessibility”.
Therefore, I’m going to be uncharacteristically modest and not ask that the Samurai amend their document because I do things differently sometimes. We all do, and that’s OK.
Here’s how my personal best-practice differs from that described in WCAG+Samurai:
I use skip links on corporate sites and have had good feedback from blind users. Samurai is drafted in a manner that could be taken to ban them. “Skip links” is a technique that matches checkpoint 13.6:
“Group related links, identify the group (for user agents), and, until user agents do so, provide a way to bypass the group. [Priority 3]”.
Samurai bans conforming to Priority 3 checkpoints:
No to Priority 3: Not only do you not have to comply with any Priority 3 guidelines, most of which are unworkable, you must not comply with them.
You may dislike “skip links”; you may believe that the user agent should deal with them. But as they are not harmful, I see no reason to ban them.
<embed>is allowed by WCAG+Samurai – I agree with that. I also use
tabindex="-1"to force IE to allow in-page navigation for keyboard users.
Guideline 3 adds valid CSS to the mix:
Any HTML or CSS inserted into a page by scripting or other methods must result in a valid page when actually rendered to the reader of the page.
I know of no accessibility implications of invalid CSS, so don’t understand why CSS is included in this guideline.
Alternate text for charts and diagrams
This is a great section, that should sound a death knell for well-meaning, but worse-than-useless verbose descriptions of decorative stock photography. My only eyebrow raise is to the correction to Guideline 1.1:
You can leave a text equivalent blank (e.g., null alt text, alt=””) if immediately-preceding or -following text has the same function as a text equivalent.
I don’t think it needs to be as prescriptive as “immediately”.
Sad but true: because IE still doesn’t support the CSS
display:table-cell, there are still some layouts that can’t be reliably delivered cross-browser without some highly convoluted and fragile CSS.
I’ve never needed to code one, and probably never will, but if I am required to do so, I’ll use a layout table.
ASCII art and animated GIFs
I’e never used ASCII art, and I think animated GIFs are generally tacky (with a notable exception). But, if ASCII art can be skipped over, and if the GIF doesn’t flash dangerously, I don’t think they’re inherently inaccesible. (I know nothing about photosensitive epilepsy, though, so tell me if I’m wrong).
If I could offer one piece of advice to the WCAG Samurai before the final version is released, it would be to tone down some of the language employed. To corporates, the accusations that indentifiable people at the w3c are
“bullies” and that
“we’re more serious about multimedia than anyone else” reads like there are hidden agendas and axes to grind, which may affect people’s judgement of the advice in the errata and slow its uptake, which would be a great pity.