What’s Next after WCAG? Project Silver to Broaden Future Accessibility Guidelines beyond the Web, Content
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) was published in 2008. That makes it 10 years old and in need of a major update! But information and communications technologies are exploding beyond the web—is even the name outdated? What comes after WCAG 2.0 if not WCAG 3?
Jeanne Spellman, web accessibility engineer for the The Paciello Group (TPG) and a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) representative, talks to Microassist’s Vivian Cullipher about “Project Silver” and its very first design sprint. That happened the week of the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference. Following a year of research and feedback gathering, 30 accessibility experts—practitioners, policy makers, lawyers, user experience designers, advocates, and more—got together to reimagine accessibility guidelines.
Here’s what developed.
Jeanne Spellman Interview Topics: Project Silver and the “New WCAG”
To hear the complete 27-minute recording at once, try the full playlist on SoundCloud. Otherwise, this CSUN interview is presented in three parts, with a transcript following each audio clip:
- Introducing “Project Silver”—March 2018 Design Sprint Considers Needs of Tomorrow’s Accessibility Guidelines [“Introducing Project Silver” Transcript]
- Moving Beyond the “Web” in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [“Beyond the Web” Transcript]
- Getting Involved in Project Silver: Join the W3C Silver Community Group [“Get Involved” Transcript]
For more on Project Silver and WCAG, please visit the Resources section on this page.
Introducing “Project Silver”—March 2018 Design Sprint Considers Needs of Tomorrow’s Accessibility Guidelines
Transcript: Introducing “Project Silver”
Hi, This is Vivian Cullipher from Microassist. I’m here at CSUN, Assistive Technology Conference 2018. As you’ve probably seen in some of the other clips that are on the Microassist website, I am interviewing a few folks who are deeply involved in accessibility. Right now, I am here with Jeanne Spellman. Jeanne Spellman has been involved in accessibility for several years. Is it, maybe 10, I think it was? Or, has it been longer than…
It’s been longer than that.
It’s been longer than that? Well, I tell you what, why don’t I let you introduce yourself? Tell me who you’re with, what your role is, and what you’re doing here at CSUN.
Great. Well, I’m Jeanne Spellman. I work for The Paciello Group, which is an accessibility consultancy. Prior to that, I worked for the W3C doing accessibility guideline work. Now, I am working on a new project for the W3C as a representative of The Paciello Group.
The project that I’m working on is the Project Silver, which is just a code name. We haven’t started working on what we’re actually going to name it, but it is the guidelines that will be the successor of WCAG 2. You might think of it as WCAG 3, except we know it’s going to be broader than web, and it’s going to be broader than content, so it’ll need a new name. Rather than try to figure out the name now, we’re calling it Project Silver, which is kind of cute, because if you think about accessibility guidelines, “…AG,” then “Ag” is the chemical symbol for silver, so that’s why we are Project Silver. I didn’t think of that.
That is very clever. That is very clever. It’s really neat to hear the explanation behind it, because of course, my first thought was, “Well, there’s gold, and bronze, and some other metals involved at some point.” But, that’s wonderful. I really like that connection.
Tell me about the work you are doing with Silver. I assume that’s going to be covered a little bit in your session tomorrow. Is that right?
Okay. Tell me a little bit about the work that you’re doing with Silver.
All right. Well, a group of us started working…Oh, I think it was two years ago. We realized that WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008. The web was a very different place then. It really had not been significantly updated in all that time.
About two years ago, a group of us got together and started working on, “What would it take to update WCAG?” There’s a lot of things to consider in that, because WCAG has been adopted into regulations around the world. For many countries, making a change to it is a very big deal. So, we wanted to be really careful about how we approached it.
A group of people started working on WCAG 2.1. Then several of us, namely Sarah Horton, Shawn Lauriat, and myself, started thinking about, “Well, we should start planning ahead for WCAG 3.” Because, it takes a long time to get a project like this up and running. We really want to do it thoroughly and carefully, and do it in a different way than had been done before for guideline work.
For example, we wanted to be able to do user research and see what people needed, what people wanted, from the guidelines. Then we wanted to be able to do prototypes, and do user testing, and actually approach the standards in a more usable way. We got a project approved, and they named it Silver. That was actually Andrew Kirkpatrick from Adobe, was the person who came up with the Silver name.
Then Shawn Lauriat enrolled a skilled Agile design sprint moderator to come and actually be the moderator of the group. So, it wasn’t Shawn and I trying to run it. He so exceeded our expectations. He drove us so hard. We were exhausted at the end of the first day, like every creative idea had been wrung out of my head. That was Monday. Then on Tuesday, we started prototyping solutions. Before we got to the design sprint, we took all of the research that had been done, and we distilled it into 11 problem statements. These are the problems we need to solve.
For example, in WCAG 2.0, all of the success criteria have to be pass or fail. That’s been a very powerful place to be, because it made WCAG 2 be adopted for regulations around the world. Which, has been a tremendous benefit to people with disabilities around the world to have it adopted into regulations. That was a very important advantage.
But, it also had a disadvantage, because some of the needs of people with disabilities are not always easily testable. For example, people with cognitive disabilities want a page to be more readable and more easily understood. But, how do you do a pass/fail for readable or easily understood? You don’t. It’s meant that those kinds of needs haven’t been able to be addressed by WCAG, because they don’t fit into this pass/fail testing. How can we create a new standard that has more flexibility to include the needs of more people with disabilities without losing the ability to measure what regulators need?
Because, they need a standard to aim for, and having that pass/fail provides them a foundation on whether or not people have met that standard.
Right. Can we do a way of measuring whether or not people have met the standard that isn’t a pass/fail?
Did you come up with a solution for that, or is that one of the-
We have a number of ideas for that. They’re very exciting, which is part of the reason I’m just so excited about what came out of the design sprint. Because, we really went into it with, “These are the really hard problems that we don’t know how to answer this. So, we’re bringing together 30 of the best people in the accessibility industry, and we’re giving them the problems. How do we fix this?”
The results so exceeded my expectations. I really am so thrilled with it. We generated a pile of paper, about eight inches high, of notes and ideas that we’re all trying to get transcribed and pull these thoughts together and organize it, so that we can start sharing with people. Getting more outside feedback, and more criticism, and more input.
That’ll be our next step. You’ll see, within the next, probably six to eight weeks, we’ll be trying to get out our results and start getting more feedback for the next cycle. Because, that’s agile development. You do something, you test it, and then you do another iteration. Then you put it out there and test it, and do another iteration. I’m learning this myself.
Well, tell me this. Speaking of this process and how it happens, do you have a timeline or a goal for when Silver would be ready? I realize we’re at the very, very early stages, and I know these things take a long time. And, there’s even going to be the adoption period that comes after that. What is it looking like right now, as far as a loose schedule? I’m assuming it’s loose at this point.
Okay. What we want to do is, by May, and this is pretty aggressive schedule, so we want to have a requirements document and a prototype done for people to start giving input and to start doing user testing. Then by November-ish, we would like to have a fairly narrow first working draft of what Silver would look like. It probably won’t have a lot of content in it yet, and it probably would be things that you’re already familiar with from WCAG. But, the purpose of it would be to be able to let people visualize how this would work, so that we could get more input. We could correct a mistakes. We can try to identify some of the unintended consequences and make corrections before we get too far down the process.
We have a goal of having the first version, whatever numbering we’ll call it, but say we’ll call it 3.0, but I know other people would want to start the numbering over at 1, but the .0 version, by 2020. Then, one of our goals is to also make … and that was one of the problem statements is, “How do we make Silver more flexible and easier to maintain, so that we don’t go 10 years before we update it?” We’d like to see it in a pattern of very regular updates.
Some people would like to see it continually updated. I know regulators aren’t going to want to see it that way. There’s still consensus that we need to bring together of what is the period of time to keep updating it? But, we want it to be regular, predictable updates, so that we continue to build. And, we continue to expand to meet new needs of people with disabilities, as new technologies come onboard, like home assistance. Can things be included? I’m not saying that we’re going to do that, because we’re still working on what the scope should be. As new technology comes along, how does that get rolled into accessibility guidance so that we don’t end up in another situation where we have the standard that’s 10 years old?
Moving Beyond the “Web” in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Transcript: Moving Beyond the “Web”
Part of the genius, I think, behind, WCAG 2.0 was the fact that it was principle-based and it tried to be open to including new technologies, but of course in 2008 there wasn’t even the knowledge that technologies would expand beyond the web as we have been now. So you mentioned voice, I think, voice assistance is what you had mentioned, what are some of the other technologies that you see being included in, I would assume, mobile?
Certainly, mobile, various apps. We’re pretty clear, we want to do that. Some people would like us to do document accessibility; some people would not. So we do have to figure out how that will work. That’s certainly something we could consider. Internet of Things is exploding and coming our way very rapidly. Some people have talked about, well, what about self-driving cars? Should that interface be included? That’s where we start…
And augmented reality.
And these are the things that we know about.
Not the things we don’t know about.
Exactly. So we have to be careful that we keep the scope narrow enough to make it doable. So I think, in the beginning, we are just going to be starting out with what we already know—how to do web. One of the things that we’ve been saying, in this last year, as we’ve been talking about all of these problems and the various solutions, is we’ve been talking about this as evolutionary content, but radical structure.
So, we’re going to make … And this one thing that came out of the design spread that I’ll be… We’ll be talking about on Friday, is we know we’re going to do plain language. So that … We want the guidelines to be easy to read, for everyone, but also for our international users. WCAG 2.0 is very difficult to translate. One of the people at the design sprint is from Japan, and he was talking about how the screen … The most popular screen reader in Japan won’t support the ARIA technical language for development because the developers of the screen reader don’t read English. It’s the translations are still too hard to work with. So they don’t put it in the screen reader because it’s too difficult. So the people in Japan, who are blind, don’t get as good a screen reader as they could get in, say, the US or you know in the more prominent English-speaking countries because it’s too hard to translate. So, part of what we want to do is make Silver easier for everyone to understand.
One of the other items that was a major problem that came out of the research is it’s so difficult to get started with WCAG. You bring in a designer, who’s never worked in accessibility and you say, “Well, we need an accessible design.” And you say, “Well, here’s WCAG.” And they look at this and they say, “This doesn’t apply to me. This is for developers; I don’t understand what they’re talking about.” We want to change that.
Another idea that came out of the design spread was to look at Silver by roles. Let people find what they want by, you know, what they do. So if you are a designer, we’ll give you design patterns. If you’re a developer, we’ll give you cold samples. If you’re a tester, we’ll give you test cases. So you’re not trying to wade through a lot of information—hundreds of pages of information—in order to find how to make an accessible slider.
Right, and it also enables entire teams to work more closely together without any one team bearing the burden of teaching accessibility to the other team.
Like, developers having to say to the designers, “This is not something that I can do with accessible code,” or designers saying, “I want this kind of color,” and it being out of contrast and somebody further on down the line having to bring that up. So it sounds like it really breaks … That breaking up by roles is really going to empower teams to be able to work more closely together and move in one direction.
Right. One of the other ideas that came out was that … And again, these are all just ideas, these aren’t what we’re going to do, because we don’t know that yet. But another idea that I thought was very exciting was to org … Give people the option of seeing the guidance organized by the flow of a project. So here are the things that a project manager needs to think about before they start a new project. Here are the things that get integrated into the requirements of the project. Here are the things that should be included in the design. Here are the things that should be coded. Here’s the way you should be testing it. So that you don’t get to the end of a project and say, “Oh, now we need to add the accessibility. Oh, you developers—bad, bad. You didn’t make it accessible.” When it should have started at the very beginning. And … So that was another really good idea of how we could organize the material.
One of … The way it’s currently organized is perceivable, operable, understandable, robust—which is great because it is user centered, and it keeps people with disabilities at the center, but it doesn’t always provide the information in a way that’s usable for people that are trying to conduct a project.
So, that if we can make it easier for the people that are trying to implement it, then we will have a better chance of having more adoption. And having more adoption in the beginning of the project.
Another complaint that we heard over and over again in the research is that new products don’t build in accessibility. Everyone says, “We’ll do accessibility in phase two.” Well that means people with disabilities are locked out of early adoption.
And the opportunity to provide feedback that would go back into a phase two product.
Exactly. Exactly. So, we really want to see what we can do. You know, there is a limit to what you can do with a standard, but we want to do what we can to make it easier for people to implement accessibility. That’s really our goal.
It’s really interesting to me to hear the language, in a certain sense, come full circle. With the idea of accessibility of being removing barriers, to be able to access content. Here it almost sounds like Silver is taking the approach of, “Okay, now how do we remove the barriers to implementation that’s going to get us to further implement accessibility.” So, I just find that really interesting that the language is kind of … It’s still being used for accessibility, obviously, but it’s also … Okay, let’s implement that principle that we had and expand it even further.
To accomplish the same goal.
Getting Involved in Project Silver: Join the W3C Silver Community Group
Transcript: Getting Involved in Project Silver
I think I could sit here and talk to you for an hour, hour and a half and maybe that’s something we consider for another time. Maybe a future interview or phone call or conference call or something like that, that we can help get the word out on what you’re doing.
What can people do now to help support you? I know you had done surveys before, had done a lot of research before, where can people support you or even just find more information? Both of those would be really cool pieces to pass along.
Great, the … One of the things that we’re doing that is a little different from the usual W3C, the traditional W3C working group process, is that we formed a W3C community group. Now a community group is different from a working group but to be in a working group, you need to be either a W3C member or you need to be an invited expert and that’s a pretty difficult process.
So what the community…W3C recognized this and created this whole idea of community groups as a way of letting anyone, who wants to participate, sign up and participate. So we have a Silver Community Group, and I’m sure if you just Google or search W3C Silver community group, you’ll come to our page and there’s a join button and in order to do this, you need a W3C account, but those are free, and once you set up that account and you join the community group, then you’re stuck on our mailing list, and you’re starting to get the information and you can participate.
You can join any of our conference calls. We are trying to open this as broadly as we can. I would say to anyone who is interested, who says, oh yeah I’d like to do that right now, I’m gonna warn you, what’s we’re doing right now is really boring and I would highly recommend you wait a month. And I know we’ll lose some people because when I say wait a month but because people forget and other things become priorities.
But I don’t want someone who’s really saying, I’m a person with a disability and I want this included and I want to join right now because we’re not writing content yet. We’re still working on the really boring, how do we structure this, how do we write the conformance, how do we … So I would really encourage anyone, who particularly with a disability, who’ve encountered barriers that they want to see included in Silver, keep us in mind, give us some time to get ready and join the community group because then you’ll be on the mailing list, then you’ll be a part of the discussion and you can start joining meetings whenever you feel moved to do so and that we’re working on something that’s really relevant for you.
I’d hate to have people invited too soon, when we’re not ready to have it be what they want but we definitely want more people to participate and we think the community group is just a really good way to open the doors, and let more people into the working group process. So we think the community group is just a great way to get more input into Silver and more people participating.
And I will put out, if you’ll indulge me another moment, anyone who is a plain language editor, anyone who’s good at doing this, we would like to ask you this summer to help us working on rewriting the existing WCAG in plain language.
So that’s roughly our plan for the summer, is to start getting a group of people who are good accomplished editors and that’s a rare, it’s not common specialty but the people who can do that, that would help us, that’s our goal for the summer is to get that done and right now we’re looking for people who are information architects and people who are good at doing prototypes. So they can help us build the prototypes from the ideas that are coming out of the design sprint.
So if you in any of those three categories, join the community group today and shoot us an email to the community group email list which is there or contact me directly and we’ll get you involved right away and for everyone who wants to work on content, give us a couple of months.
Put it on your calendar.
Yes, put in on your calendar. [crosstalk 00:04:46]
[crosstalk 00:04:45] to ping you in a couple of months and then you’ll get … you’ll fold them into the stream I guess at the exact right moment.
It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for explaining what’s been going on. I will be sure to look up the pages and information and put them on the blog where this podcast will be posted and make sure that there’s live links there for anybody who’s listening to this particular segment. They’ll be able to very easily find what they need to get involved in the community groups and what’s going on with the upgrade.
I think that’s very exciting and we’ll do all we can to help support it, and promote it, and I just look forward to hearing the updates and what’s going on.
Great, thank you.
Thank you so much for your time.
For web accessibility guidelines, what comes after WCAG? Project Silver is currently in preliminary phases of the original Design Plan. To become informed and involved, visit the links below.
- Silver Task Force Wiki — Get informed! Repository for the goals, design plans, stakeholder involvement, research and more.
- W3C Silver Community Group — Get involved! Support the research and prototyping of the next major version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
For support in making your website and other digital materials, including documents, applications, and platforms, accessible, review our Microassist Accessibility Services page or contact our accessibility team.
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