Why Following WCAG 2.0 to The Letter Doesn’t Make Sense

In the world of law, there is a philosophy that you shouldn’t follow the letter of the law, but the spirit. Much the same, I argue, applies to most guidelines and rules.

Recently, I have been seeing more proposal requests, even for smaller companies, reference the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines for accessibility as a requirement. That’s wonderful. More people are paying attention to accessibility. Even though they don’t quite know what it means.

Surprise! WCAG 2.0 AA bans a lot…

Surprisingly, or maybe not, many are surprised to find that the WCAG 2.0 criteria stops them from doing some things that they want. In many cases, that’s just the way accessibility will work. It stops bad practices from being used.

In other cases, the criteria set are impossible to follow. While the A level (the most lenient) can be followed fairly well, the AA level is harder, and AAA is for all practical purposes impossible.

Most notably, the criteria requires a lot of work on the content side. And if you want to add video and audio content, you’re in for a lot of work. And this is where clients, often, are surprised. Most simply assume that it’s on the technical side.

Worst of all, if you are going to follow the WCAG 2.0 criteria, you can’t just read the list of requirements. You have to read the body of written work explaining them. And it’s quite a long and complex read too.

Weight Guidelines, User Experience and Feedback

This is where the letter of the guidelines vs. the spirit of the guidelines come in. By definition it is hard to write guidelines that apply perfectly to all situations. They will always be a bit blunt.

By strictly requiring that guidelines by followed, you might forego other solutions which in fairness is better. Because guidelines and criteria get old fast in a fast-moving world.

Follow the Spirit. Not the Letter.

A good solution to this dilemma is to think about the spirit of the guidelines. Why were they written, and what’s the goal that we are trying to achieve? Quite clearly, we are trying to make sure that as many people as possible are able to use our websites easily.

Every single guideline exists to help us reach this goal. But sometimes, the guidelines just won’t work, or they will feel outdated, or even impossible.

In those cases, we should just step back, and think about what the best ways to achieve the goals are. So instead of following any guidelines to the letter, follow them to the spirit. And everyone will thank you for it.