Robustness-Is Content Flexible Enough to be Interpreted by a Wide Range of User Agents?

WCAG 2.0 Principles: Robust

The fourth pillar of the WCAG 2.0 Accessibility Guidelines is “robustness.” Content must be flexible enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide range of user agents, including assistive technologies. The rapid pace of technology also means that smart companies will gear their content toward future user agents (i.e. “future-proofing”) as well.

Moore’s Law explains that computing capabilities dramatically increase in power—and decrease in cost—at an exponential rate. To give an example, the Cray Y-MP was the world’s fastest computer in 1988 with a $5 million price tag to match. The Y-MP CPU ran upwards of 200Mhz. In comparison, the most recent iPhone 6 runs at 1.4Ghz (1400Mhz), costs just $700 and fits into your back pocket. As technology advances, its cost of manufacturing decreases, making it more available and widespread. Unfortunately, while technology continues making great strides, its rapid rate of advancement poses particular difficulty for people who rely on assistive technologies to access web content. The fact that a new piece of technology has more processing power does not necessarily mean it will handle assistive technology any better.

Processor power development follows a linear path; engineers work to increase the speed of how fast a machine can perform an operation. Advancements in web technology, focusing on the interface between web servers and their clients, are much more variable. One developer, for example, may prefer to work with Python and look to develop that programming language, while another may do the same with Javascript. Both can make advances, but in doing so limit interoperability. Given the exponential rate of web development, individuals form intransigent preferences for different web browsers and operating systems (OS).

Choosing a web browser or OS should be based on personal preference, not whether it functions with assistive technology. Companies that overlook this critical point suffer an immediate loss of business (and potential future revenue as well). Some developers expect this variance among users and try to make their content accessible across a variety of platforms. Thus, it is necessary to implement baseline requirements for developers to ensure interoperability.

Bottom line? Developers must have assistive technology in mind throughout the development phase and when planning future updates. This requires developers to continuously pay attention to other changes in the field of web accessibility. A couple key questions every developer should be asking themselves: How are other developers incorporating these changes into their products? How can we make sure that our product doesn’t lose a competitive advantage over others? Ensuring that your content is robust prevents it from becoming obsolete.