Isn't AAA better than AA?

AAA batteries

I often get asked if I make triple-A (AAA) compliant websites.

I say no. I scribble that off the RFP.

My project manager looks sad and says that I should and we'll lose the pitch or something if it's not WCAG2.0-AAA rated.

I want to explain why AAA is a myth. Just because we can and should be trying for AA ratings, and just because the concept of AAA exists doesn't mean we can begin to promise to live up to that.

To very roughly sum up,

  • WCAG Level A compliant content is correct and usable. It works normally, follows best-practice, no actual errors.
  • Level AA content is slightly enhanced and accessible for the greatest number of users in the greatest number of compliant devices.
  • Level AAA content is re-edited, supplemented with additional content, and tuned for extra-special audiences. Full compliance can mean providing alternative language versions, written for low levels of reading comprehension, with all pictures described with text, all video subtitled and ... heck, a lot more.

AAA almost always means putting extra work onto the content supplier - the client who just wants to put their annual report online.

A web agency can usually do a good job of providing tools that can make it practical for a client to publish AA-compliant content without too much bother. Even then it takes discipline to convince content managers to put a meaningful ALT tag on every image and ensure that their desired layouts fit into various screen layouts.

A web agency cannot (except in total control situations) ensure that every graph has a full textual equivalent, is free of jargon, and never has an illustration that may be ambiguous to a color-blind person. It's not impossible, but it's certainly not practical in most situations. If dealing with legacy content, it could sometimes mean re-editing huge amounts, for little gain, and raising an intractable conflict with record-keeping requirements and other policies.

Even the WAI usage guidelines (the G in WCAG is "guidelines) states it does not expect it is possible that every document can be AAA-conformant.

This is why - in most cases - someone who asks for a large site to be AAA-rated doesn't know what they are talking about. Seeing it requested in an RFP or brought up at a meeting is troublesome, and means somebody copy-pasted from somewhere, or is throwing acronyms around.


I'm not saying that AAA ratings are no good, just that they are like a holy grail that it's interesting to aim at, and sometimes we can get closer to them than before ... but you shouldn't expect to actually achieve it 100% in anything more than a vacum-packed showpiece - not a working day-to-day corporate website.

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