This week I want to take a further look at accessibility guidelines. In the United States, there are two guidelines agencies may have to go by where web accessibility is concerned, Section 508, which in most cases are the same as the general WCAG guidelines. What I found most interesting is the government decided that they needed to have a separate set of guidelines for government agencies. Instead, the government should have worked with the WAI to make their guidelines more understandable to the general public.
Upon reading about the WCAG guidelines, the most surprising thing to me is some of the content is very vague. For example, Guideline 1.1 states “Provide text alternatives for all non-text content” (Thatcher); what does that mean? A person could interpret Guideline 1.1 in two ways; more is better or less is best. If I put an image on my web page showing the Officers Club on Alcatraz Island should I describe in detail the image or should I simply name the building? In my opinion, a description of the building would be of no use to people who do not rely on screen readers unless they have images turned off. I would suggest as an alternative to make the alt-tag simply state Officers Club on Alcatraz Island and then add a D-link tag to describe the image for the person needing a screen reader. The WCAG needs to address the Guidelines to make them less generic and more useful.
From reading the Guidelines and Section 508 standards, I have decided the Section 508 Standards provide more valuable guidance for web developers. One tool that I found is the site Web Accessibility Made Easy as posted by NASA. The chart provides users with understandable information in an easy to use format. WCAG has a similar page called How to Meet WCAG 2.0 which is a much easier to read document than the original posting. It seems the WAI realized the massive amount of information provided was to great and many developers would simply ignore the information or claim they did not understand the guidelines.
Thatcher, Jim. Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance. New York: friends of ed, 2006.