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Interaction Context + UI + Content

From: Michael Pluke <Mike.Pluke@castle-consult.com>
Date: Thu, 9 Aug 2012 17:28:34 -0400
To: "public-wcag2ict-tf@w3.org" <public-wcag2ict-tf@w3.org>
Message-ID: <5735ED0D92A3E6469F161EB41E7C28A81D1BAA82A8@MAILR001.mail.lan>
Hello everyone

In the "interaction context" sub-group we have been debating for some time issues related to the need for and definition of a concept such as "interaction context" or "User interface context". In this email I'd like to clarify some of the reasons why we find ourselves in this position.

The primary starting point for these discussions arose because the Mandate 376 people introduced this concept in our last two drafts. Ever since the  second US Section 508 ANPRM arrived our team have spent very many person weeks of effort trying to figure out how we can support the following statement:

"Software that provides a user interface shall conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria as defined by the Conformance Requirements specified in WCAG 2.0"

We immediately started looking for mappings between Web concepts and software concepts. As WCAG 2.0 conformance and Success Criteria are based around the Web page, we immediately looked to identify something that could directly map to a Web page. After a lot of discussion and consideration of alternatives (in the process of which we rejected simple terms like "software") we arrived at:

"interaction context: that part of the user interface of a system in which the users interact with all the functions, containers, and information needed for carrying out some particular task or set of interrelated tasks

NOTE:   An interaction context can include but is not limited to things such as, the complete software window, a dialog box, message box, voice dialogue step, etc."

The equivalence that we hope that we have achieved leads to the following:

-          A single Interaction Context (IC) is equivalent to a single Web page (in fact a web page nicely fits the M376 "interaction context" definition)

-          Most software, that can contain several ICs, actually maps to "a set of Web pages" (not a Web page). Only simple software with a single IC maps to Web page.

Taking my favourite complex application (software), MS Outlook, as an example, this contains at least four main ICs:

-          Mail;

-          Calendar;

-          Contacts;

-          Tasks.

These are clearly separate M376 ICs as they each support quite different user tasks. According to the M376 definition there will be a number of other ICs that are less obvious i.e. all of the modal dialogue boxes that can be shown when using any of the above and that impose themselves as the user task until dismissed.

There are several (even most) SCs that could actually be successfully applied to a complete set of Web pages e.g. 1.1.1 and 2.4.6 where it is required that there should be text alternatives and that headings and labels should describe topic or purpose no matter where they are in a set of Web pages. It is therefore true that these SCs could also be successfully applied to a complete set of ICs i.e. "software" or the "software UI". However, this is not what the WCAG 2.0 conformance requirements says should be done - these say that the SCs should be separately applied to each Web page - and this translates to each "interaction context".

In SCs that relate to the behaviour of one Web page in a set of Web pages, the shortcut of applying the SC to a set of Web pages (which is what "software" and "software UI" translate to) breaks down. It is for these SCs that something like IC is (probably) needed.
My Conclusions

1)      The M376 "interaction context" approach sticks much more rigidly to the WCAG 2.0 approach - so this is why it plugs straight in to the WCAG Conformance Requirements without any modification needed to those requirements.

2)      The "software" and "software UI" approach actually guides the user away from a strict interpretation of the WCAG intent as it says that SCs should be applied to something that equates to a "set of Web pages".

3)      The use of "software" and "software UI" will be inadequate for the few remaining problem SCs in WCAG2ICT that explicitly refer to "Web page". Much cleverer wording will be needed if IC is not used.

4)      However, the "software" and "software UI" approach leads to much greater efficiency and simplicity when applying many SCs to software i.e. the whole software can be tested as one piece and it does not need to be broken down into its component ICs (which could be a difficult task) in order to test.

5)      Without a term like "interaction context" WCAG2ICT may have great difficulty in addressing Conformance Requirements. It will not be possible to say how any SC should be applied as the current WCAG2ICT guidance is separately stating what each SC applies to. Some SCs apply to "software", some to "software UIs" and maybe we have other variants. We may or may not be able to rationalize this. In all cases so far, I don't think that we are scoping any of the SCs to a unit that clearly equates to an analogue of a Web page.

6)      There is fundamentally no clear boundary to what is meant by software. This means that one supplier may interpret software as a single application. Another may take it to mean a shrink-wrapped software suite. Another might take it to mean the total diverse multi-supplier software bundle that they supply! Such ambiguity is a serious problem when trying to interpret how to apply the SCs and also when trying to compare between suppliers who have interpreted "software" in a very different way. This lack of consistency in interpretation is one of the key criticisms of some people against IC - but this inconsistency could be very much greater when interpreting "software"! "Interaction context" does attempt to try to define and constrain the scope across which an SC should be applied. It appears that "software" and its variants do not get close to achieving this scoping precision.

I would like to ponder my conclusion 4, which reveals a potential weakness of the current M376 approach - but one which I hope may be addressable by a few simple statements that indicate that some SCs, that strictly apply to one IC, can be applied to the whole software for the sake of efficiency.

I think that WCAG2ICT will need to continue to ponder issues 3, 5 and 6. I will of course try to actively help in this pondering!

I would like to arrive at a situation where it is clear that M376 and WCAG2ICT are saying the same thing. M376 will not be presenting our material in exactly the same form as WCAG2ICT as this does not suit the needs of our standard (EN). Similarly, WCAG2ICT cannot adopt the M376 way of presenting its guidance as this does not meet W3Cs needs.

Best regards


PS: I believe that the current "User Interface Context (by an author)" definition is inferior to the M376 "interaction context" definition as it depends on the term "navigation commands" and relies on separately identifying "user interface elements" and "presented information". Unfortunately I think that the task of evolving the definition from its M376 roots got diverted into a string of updates to fix some supposed weaknesses that were being raised.
Received on Thursday, 9 August 2012 21:29:14 UTC

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