During the live version of the podcast we had a good discussion about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). If you want to listen to the prerecorded podcast file, or if you want to read the text of what I said, the post offers that information.
As the title of this post indicates, I’m writing here to discuss why advocacy organizations, including the American Council of the Blind (ACB), don’t speak out about the lack of participation from the disability community in the development of the WCAG.
Organizations Not Discussing Lack of Equity in WCAG
One participant in the live version of the podcast asked me why I thought advocacy organizations aren’t speaking out more about the lack of inclusion of people with disabilities in the development of the WCAG. As I said at the time, this is a very difficult issue. But my view is that advocacy organizations, like ACB, are in a difficult spot when it comes to challenging the lack of participation of people with disabilities in the development of the WCAG. The reason is simple: the advocacy organizations accept large donations from many of the corporations involved in the development of the WCAG. If they were to speak out too much about the unfair corporate control over the development of the WCAG, advocacy organizations would be risking funding they most certainly need.
Still, I believe advocacy organizations, like ACB, should be doing more to ensure the WCAG are developed with true participation from the disability community. They should also clearly state that the leadership of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group should consist of people with disabilities.
Yes, it is impossible for nonprofits to have a chance at thriving in America without corporate money. That reality is, in my view, an intensional feature of the American system, not a bug. As long as organizations and individuals depend on corporate cash, their ability to challenge unfair corporate power is greatly limited. But advocacy organizations should be doing more to oppose our lack of participation in the development of the WCAG.
Sadly, I also believe that if the development of the WCAG was led by people with disabilities and was based on principles of disability equity, many of the major corporations currently involved with and supporting the WCAG would no longer be strong supporters. One of the reasons so many corporations support the WCAG is that the wCAG prefers the desires of corporations over the needs for greater access to web content by people with disabilities. If the guidelines were more demanding and if they did more to hold violators accountable, corporations would find them threatening. The reality that many large corporations are eager to tout their support for the WCAG is the best evidence of how the WCAG Doesn’t do as much to result in accessibility as its supporters say.
If anyone reads this and would like to present a counter view, I would love having that perspective and a thoughtful debate on the podcast. Also, if someone from the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group would like to share how they are trying to become more inclusive of the disability community, I would love to offer them time. One of the reasons I do this website and the podcast is to highlight what is happening now and, hopefuly, work to make things better. So while I do believe the development of the WCAG is patently, deliberately inequitable , I hope more folks will raise this issue with the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. If many of us do that, we just may see something change over time.
The WCAG Could be Better
Prior to ending this post, I want to make one thing clear: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a good thing. Their existence has given us some leverage when web content isn’t accessible. Their development has resulted in a much clearer understanding of what it takes to make web content more accessible than many would have had if they were never developed. But the lack of equitable participation in the development of the WCAG and the truth that it isn’t led by those it supposedly is meant to help also holds back accessibility and makes holding violators accountable more difficult than they would be if the WCAG was based on principles of disability equity.
Yes, things are better with the WCAG than they would be without the WCAG. But things would be even better if the development of the WCAG was led by those of us with disabilities and its overarching goal was to help enforce compliance–rather than to encourage compliance. Sadly, asking people to do the right thing works far less than many want to hope. In industries where compliance with the WCAG is better that compliance is better because of legal action. Almost no one who deals with in accessibility as a person with a disability on a daily basis believes that educating people and asking them to do the right thing works very often. If that approach was very successful, so many things still wouldn’t be inaccessible. So, the WCAG must be led by us so it can truly reach its potential in making the web far more accessible to and inclusive of us.