I will miss WCAG 4.1.1 a bit, but it’s retirement will allow us to focus on more important problems

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I’ve learned that WCAG can’t be changed a lot and that only additions are allowed. Now I’ve read that WCAG 2.2 will have the 4.1.1 success criterion (parsing) removed. My first reaction was – why and how will we work with problems in HTML then? On the other hand we should probably be happy we can focus on other problems that are more related directly to accessibility.

WCAG version 2.2 will not have it’s 4.1.1 parsing success criterion any more. That came out a bit as a shock until I’ve read the reasons behind (you can read all 105 comments about this on GitHub (opens in new window)). Then it kind of made sense. It still feels a bit odd for me, as with removal of 4.1.1 we will not be focusing on valid HTML more and I still feel that it is kind of a loss for the web in general, but on the other hand I do agree that we will have more time to focus on other problems.

At the same time browsers now really are way better at automatically fixing all parsing issues. That may be a curse in a way when we consider that a lot of invalid HTML out there still works just fine in browsers. But it is kind of a blessing as well – allowing human errors that can be fixed automatically fixed.

As you can probably understand out of my reflections – I am somehow divided here – having mixed feelings about the situation. And I am not alone – Wilco Fiers opened an issue on WCAG called “Don’t remove 4.1.1 Parsing from WCAG 2.2 (opens in new window). Good points made there that go beyond the scope of this post, but I do agree that maintenance and also cognitive cost of automatic tools and learning materials will go up because WCAG was not planned for removals.

Back to my experience – I’ve not seen a lot of valid HTML when doing my auditing and not all invalid HTML is also a fail of 4.1.1 but it was kind of a good hook to report back to developers that they should care at least a little about their HTML. With WCAG 2.2 and forwards we will not have that possibility anymore. On the other hand I do agree that if HTML problems can be fixed automatically by the browser and if they don’t present any issues to assistive technologies that they are not worth of being a part of already large WCAG. That’s also a point to keep in mind. And accessibility audits should not be the audits that discover and point out HTML problems alone. We should focus on accessibility.

So again – I understand the reasons and I support simplification but on the other hand I will miss the 4.1.1 because it allowed me to report duplicate ids, wrongly nested elements and elements missing end tags. All of this way less important in modern web, but at least duplicate ids still very important.

Just finished a report where I found a lot of duplicate id values and it was actually making problems for all users. Same element was present in HTML twice, with same id and on mobile view it was not working. So it was not primarily and accessibility bug but just a normal bug.

I had also doubts about problems with XML as they can break the whole site (at least the part after the problematic XML) but it seems like I am not the only one and in “The 411 on 4.1.1” Adrian Roselli (opens in new window) confirms my thoughts – it’s not an accessibility bug if it doesn’t work for anybody.

So OK – let’s face it – when WCAG 2.2 will be official (rumors has it that it will be quite soon, opens in new window), we’ll have a bit less to check when auditing. And our automatic tools will have to drop some checks as well.

Author: Bogdan Cerovac

I am IAAP certified Web Accessibility Specialist (from 2020) and was Google certified Mobile Web Specialist.

Work as digital agency co-owner web developer and accessibility lead.

Sole entrepreneur behind IDEA-lab Cerovac (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility lab) after work. Check out my Accessibility Services if you want me to help your with digital accessibility.

Also head of the expert council at Institute for Digital Accessibility A11Y.si (in Slovenian).

Living and working in Norway (🇳🇴), originally from Slovenia (🇸🇮), loves exploring the globe (🌐).

Nurturing the web from 1999, this blog from 2019.

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