Comment on the Inequitability of WCAG

This is the text of a comment I submitted in response to the proposed rule on web accessibility Under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act.


The process of developing the WCAG is not at all equitable or inclusive of members of the disability community. The WCAG is developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Specifically, the development of WCAG is done by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. The current chairs of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group are Charles Adams (Oracle), Rachael Bradley Montgomery (Library of Congress), and Alastair Campbell (Nomensa a British company). As far as I can tell, and I have looked reasonably hard, none of the three is a user of assistive technologies. Each of them describes themself as working on accessibility, in the field of accessibility, and/or advocating for accessibility for periods of years. I can’t find one mention of any of them discussing their life as a person with a disability, describing how they use assistive technologies, or commenting about how they are personally impacted by inaccessibility.

I mentioned the employers of the chairs of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group because the Working Group is an organization that for all intents and purposes only allows other organizations to join as full members. This means that an individual (regardless of their disability status, knowledge of assistive technologies, web codes, and related tools) cannot join without an invitation unless their employer pays to be an organizational member or they are able to pay thousands of dollars to join as an individual. The Membership FAQ has lots of information about joining the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group.
The fees for joining the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group highlight the elitist, restrictive, inequitable nature of the WCAG development process. The current cheapest fee for joining, in the United States available to very small nonprofits and government agencies, is $7,900 Annually. The largest annual fee for a United States business is currently more than $77,000 annually.
As the FAQ about the membership process and the fee structure for joining the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group indicate, the development of WCAG and the leadership of that development is a process that the vast majority of the disabled community cannot participate in at all. to make matters worse, the only people with a real shot at membership and the right to true participation are people who gain entrance in the organization with the permission of their employer. This structure creates an obvious conflict of interest, forcing people to, at minimum, represent the wishes of their employer if they want to continue participating. So, the structure effectively guarantees very few people with disabilities will have an actual say in decision making and that the guidelines reflect the wishes of the business community–not the disability community.

To pretend it welcomes participation and to offer a largely false nod to equity and inclusion, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group does offer different ways for members of the public to comment. But the most important concept of disability equity is nothing about us without us. By using a process that effectively prevents people with disabilities, unless they are representing their employer’s interest, from having a voting say in the development of WCAG, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has created a process that is all about those of us with disabilities while largely preventing those of us with disabilities from meaningful participation and denying us a real chance to lead efforts reporting to make web content more accessible to us.

Given the lack of equitable participation of people with disabilities in the WCAG process and the reality that WCAG does not fully consider the usability of web content, the final rule should require manual testing of at least critical content on the part of native users of assistive technologies.

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