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The Truth about Triple A (AAA) Compliance

13 Jan 2015

Some organisations - particularly charities or government bodies, tend to demand Triple A Compliance. Wishing for websites to be accessible to as many people as possible is a noble goal, and one we subscribe to wholeheartedly. The problem is, Triple A Compliance is a dangerous myth.


What is W3C and Level A, Double A and Triple A Conformance Levels?
W3C stands for World Wide Web Consortium, which is an international community that is widely recognised as the leading organisation when it comes to web standards and accessibility compliance.

W3C have created a document called 'Web Content Accessibility Guidelines', which give advice on how to ensure your website is accessible.

Within this document there are three Priority Levels, which correlate with the A conformance levels. Priority 1 'MUST' be satisfied (and doing so gives you 'A' rating), Priority 2 'SHOULD' be satisfied (and results in a Double A rating) and Priority 3 'MAY' be satisfied (and if you managed to meet all of these without exception, you'd get Triple A).

Double or Triple A?
We'll take it as a given that Priority 1 is followed and A rating is achieved. Anything less would be a very poor website. Further than that, all websites should conform to Double A and no website can realistically conform to Triple A. Any website that says it does is knowingly or unknowingly making a false claim.

Why is Triple A impossible in practice?
Experienced, honest practitioners agree that in reality, a Triple A standard is actually impossible to achieve. The most obvious evidence of this is checkpoint 11.3 which states:

Provide information so that users may receive documents according to their preferences (e.g., language, content type, etc.)

Therefore, in order to truly comply with this standard, the website would have to be available in every known language. Clearly this is unrealistic, and many sites that claim Triple A compliance do not even have a single alternative language.

This is just a single example, more can be found with thorough investigation of the checkpoints. The problem is, people very rarely bother.

So if a web company claims to have Triple A compliance, it means they either haven't truly read all the checkpoints properly, or are aware they are making a false claim. So how do they get away with it? Well, because nobody is policing it.

W3C states: 'Claims are not verified by W3C. Content providers are solely responsible for the use of these logos.' ((http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG1AAA-Conformance)

So if a company wants to say it has Triple A compliance it can, even if it doesn't even meet Priority 1 standards, and unless the client checks the checkpoints themselves, they will be none the wiser.

Why should you be wary of sites that claim Tripe A?
Because it indicates that they either don't understand web accessibility, or are outright lying. Below are some quotes by professionals who are passionate about genuine accessibility:

The showcased sites on Accessites.org that claim the Double-A compliance aren’t “lesser sites” at all. In fact, their refusal to claim something that they know cannot be reached demonstrates a far better understanding of web accessibility than all of the so-called Triple-A sites put together.
(http://blackwidows.co.uk/blog/2007/01/06/why-triple-a-sites-arent/)

'In conclusion, in most cases, a 'AAA' claim should be taken as false, and even as an indicator of a superficial understanding of Web Accessibility.'
(http://sdesign1.com/articles/aaa-accessibility)

For more information on why Triple A is a misrepresentation, follow these links, or simply type 'Triple A Compliance' into Google.
http://blackwidows.co.uk/blog/2007/01/06/why-triple-a-sites-arent/
http://sdesign1.com/articles/aaa-accessibility
http://accessites.org/site/2009/07/dont-just-tick-boxes/

Our conclusion
We hope we have put out enough evidence above to support our reasons for not wishing to claim Triple A compliance - as it would be impossible to do so truthfully.
Instead of pursuing an impossible goal, we are strongly committed to accessibility through every aspect of our design and coding - that means in principle and spirit and well as checking the mechanical tickboxes (it is possible to get some compliance certification by just checking the boxes and still have a hopeless website - a bit like being overly reliant on spellchecker).
If required we can check the website against W3C Double A compliance (priority 1 and priority 2 checkpoints satisfied).
We find this area fascinating and would welcome further discussion.

 

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