Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

In Joe We Trust

Joe Clark is defecting from the inept Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group and forming the WCAG Samurai, an invite-only group that aims to write guidelines on how to really build accessible media. But is the development community ready to listen to a new voice?

In the latest issue of A List Apart, Joe Clark lambastes WCAG 2 in no uncertain terms. He declares the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group environment thus:

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group is the worst committee, group, company, or organization I’ve ever worked with … The process is stacked in favour of multinationals with expense accounts who can afford to talk on the phone for two hours a week and jet to world capitals for meetings.

He goes on to disseminate the draft point by point, tearing off the veneer to reveal the rotten, unstable, unclear and poorly written framework that is simply not suitable for everyday, practical development. In all, he does a terrific job of throwing the entire document to the wolves, in the typical Joe Clark way — no punches are pulled and no quarter given. The guy knows what he likes and it is not WCAG 2.

Fine. Everyone is the web community know the WAI Priority Levels in WCAG 1.0 are ambiguous and often impossible to achieve. We accept this with a grain of salt and instead focus on accessibility best practices.

Luther nailing his theses to the church door

Joe Clark is taking the problem to its logical conclusion: form a new group to write a new set of guidelines. Like Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door, Joe has thrown down the gauntlet and started his own party. Except that it’s an “elitist and hypocritical,” (his words) invite-only, just-experts-that-Joe-Clark-deems-experts party. It is called the WCAG Samurai. (Yes, I think the name is dumb too, but I guess it has historical significance.)

This new working group will be made up of Joe’s “friends.” How quaintly political. It’s like the Senate handing over control to Palpatine. “Help, help! We the mindless masses cannot possibly construct one single significant proactive thought, so please help us help ourselves! We are lost without you!”

One can only assume Joe’s “friends” will be just that — people he knows. Other well-read standards and accessibility evangelists? Current members of the WAI? The guy at the sandwich shop who gives him free pickles? I don’t know because Joe doesn’t seem to want to publish his list. (“Membership rolls will not be published.”)

This party, of course, will not include all the hard-working, in-the-trenches developers who practice accessibility best practices daily. Not that I blame the WCAG Samurai. Too many spoons in the soup is one of the primary downfalls of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group.

So can we trust Joe Clark to deliver? Are we going to follow him to the heart of accessibility nirvana?

Of course. He is, after all, Joe Clark. We’ll follow him because he’s written the very extensive, well-written and widely accepted bible on accessibility and countless articles preaching the same mantra. He’s the expert.

It’s always dangerous when a rogue group splits off from the community to start their own tribe. Sometimes, dueling standards are created, like the perpetually annoying RSS/Atom thing. The last thing I want is Joe screaming to comply to his accessibility points when clients are adamant about meeting WCAG priority levels. Who is right, Joe or the Canadian government? Or better, Joe or your client?

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commentary + criticism

Joe Clark

wrote the following on Friday May 26, 2006

Love your brio, buddy, love your brio. Yeah, you can trust me, but you don't have to if you don't want to. And we're just writing corrections to the existing guidelines, not writing new ones. You'll still be complying with WCAG, just with an added soupçon, like a dash of hazelnut syrup in your instant coffee.

The alternative is to just keep letting Jar-Jar Binks write them. Is that really better?

Krista Stevens

wrote the following on Friday May 26, 2006

As a designer working in today’s world, I consider myself an apprentice of the Web. No matter how much I study and work to hone my skills, there are always more best practices to learn and that’s what keeps the Web – this labour of love – interesting.

I wholeheartedly applaud Joe’s efforts to stand up and fight for clear standards designers can not only understand but embrace.

I guess what I find ironic about the WCAG Samurai and WASP is that they advocate for an inclusive Web, yet the groups are comprised of a select, invited set of people – closed to those everyday apprentices and journeymen who can assist to spread the message and help to create change. Just my two cents.


wrote the following on Friday May 26, 2006

Joe -- thanks for your response. I understand you are writing corrections to an existing set, and that is fine, but I have read WCAG 1.0 and "corrections" is an understatement. It needs an overhaul, it needs clarity, it needs focus and consistency. It needs to be WCAG 2.0 but done well.

I sincerely wish you the best of luck. I've read your book and respect your passion for the topic, and that's why I've made it clear in my post that I do trust you to get the job done.

But I fear two sets of standards. Especially when both are created behind closed doors. Like Krista, I hate groups who basically architect the future of the web without input from the in-the-trenches masses.

My only hope is that the WCAG Samurai has a more intelligent review process than the current inmates running the asylum.