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A man sits at a desk between two laptops, testing a website for accessibility. Behind him are an audit report with compliance score of 94% and various charts and graphs.

Today, July 30, 2019, the W3C published the draft of the first standard format for writing accessibility conformance testing rules—the ACT Rules Format 1.0. Level Access’s own accessibility research and innovation director, Alistair Garrison, was part of the committee that developed the ACT Rules, alongside experts from across the digital accessibility community.

Why do we need this new standard?

When the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were first published in 1999, developers started writing accessibility tests. Each developer wrote tests differently and declared “pass” or “fail” status based on their interpretation of WCAG. This resulted in confusion on the part of those contracting accessibility vendors – whose tests were the best?

The committee developed the ACT Rules 1.0 to consolidate all of the best practices in accessibility testing in one place. In the words of W3C’s accessibility strategy and technology specialist, Shadi Abou-Zahra, the new rules provide “transparency, reliability, and credibility” for accessibility programs.

What do I need to know about the ACT Rules?

The ACT Rules apply to fully-automatic, semi-automatic, and manual tests. An ACT Rule is “a plain language description of how to test a specific type of content for a specific aspect of an accessibility requirement.” In other words, they test whether something meets the WCAG Success Criteria.

They are technology-agnostic and can be used to test HTML, CSS, WAI-ARIA, SVG2, EPUB 3, and other web technologies.

There are two types of rules:

  • Atomic rules:These are the small (atomic!) rules for a single condition.
  • Composite rules:When multiple atomic rules are combined and there can be many conditions to satisfy.

What does an ACT Rule document contain?

An ACT Rule contains the following items in an accessible document:

  • Descriptive Title
  • Rule Identifier
  • Rule Description
  • Rule Type
  • Accessibility Requirements Mapping
  • Rule Input, which is one of the following:
    • Input Aspects (for atomic rules) OR
    • Input Rules (for composite rules)
  • Applicability
  • Expectations
  • Assumptions
  • Accessibility Support
  • Test Cases
  • Change Log
  • Glossary

An ACT Rule may also contain an issues list, background information, or acknowledgements.

Contributing to the ACT Rules

Developers are encouraged to join the W3C ACT Rules Community Group if they are interested in developing and reviewing ACT Rules. You can also submit a comment on the W3C’s document by September 24, 2019.

Want to read more about the ACT Rules?

You can read the full draft document on the W3C website.

W3C also published a press release about the ACT Rules.

Check out the ACT Rules implementations, which includes our Access Engine.