RE: Definitions - Policy, Regulation and Compliance


Thanks for joining in on this thread. I had sent my email due to a discussion of terminology during Tuesday’s TPAC AG WG meeting as shown in the slide deck titled Accessibility, Conformance, and Regulation (Compliance)<> where there was work done to define these terms. Here’s a link to the meeting minutes where the terms were discussed<>. NOTE: this link may change, as Tuesday’s minutes are currently appended to Monday’s minutes – something that the AG WG leadership is working to rectify.

I think there’s a general feeling in the AG WG that such terms are being used interchangeably (or with slightly different meaning) in different contexts by different persons. There is a desire to clarify the definitions so we’re all closer to a common understanding when we talk about compliance vs. conformance and regulation vs. law vs. policy. I wasn’t fully comfortable with how the terms were defined in Tuesday’s TPAC presentation. There were additional modifications made during the meeting that seemed to lean toward equating policy with regulation – something I’m also uncomfortable with. I did not have the capacity to wordsmith or research on the fly during the meeting to fully explain my concerns.

My email was simply an attempt to do some research and review of how those terms are actively being used and defined by various organizations, government, education, etc. and boilerplate some definitions and uses, to try to clarify something that more closely aligns with my understanding. Other viewpoints, word changes, and input is more than welcome.

Mary Jo Mueller
IBM Accessibility Standards Program Manager

From: Andrew Somers <>
Date: Thursday, September 15, 2022 at 1:58 PM
To: AGWG Public List <>
Cc: Michael Gower <>, Jonathan Avila <>, Gregg Vanderheiden <>, Korn, Peter <>, Mary Jo Mueller <>
Subject: [EXTERNAL] Re: Definitions - Policy, Regulation and Compliance
I am not entirely clear on Mary Jo’s position here as far as what her specific reservations are/were? But I think I largely agree, and I believe I am largely in agreement with Peter, Gregg, and also Jonathan. But I certainly have strong reservations
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I am not entirely clear on Mary Jo’s position here as far as what her specific reservations are/were? But I think I largely agree, and I believe I am largely in agreement with Peter, Gregg, and also Jonathan.

But I certainly have strong reservations regarding the use of the term “regulation” if it is to be associated with public facing guideline documents created by this organization.

Though, once again I may not know the full context here—is this just an abstract glossary definition? Or is there an intent to apply or use the term “regulation” in reference to any guidelines? If the former, I’d like to offer an alternate definition, but If the latter is the case, I have to object.

Scope of “Regulations” as a term

An organization like this may certainly have “internal regulations” that apply to members as a function of internal by-laws, just as it may have internal policies—but those internal laws/regulations/policies extend only to the organization’s membership and to how it conducts business.

As a standards body, the term “regulation” is out of scope for public facing guidelines and/or standards as created herein that are intended to apply to the broad scope of web content created by public or private entities.

“Regulation” in this context (spinning motors notwithstanding) implies a rule with the force of law, and laws affecting the public and disconnected private entities are solely the domain of government legislatures or parliaments (or I suppose the occasional despot), and the authorities they lawfully designate.

The set of Departments / Commissions / Ministries / Bureaus / Agencies / Administrations which are formed by legislative actions of the government (i.e. laws or statutes) may be granted the power to develop and enforce regulations, and also make policies.

But this organization is not in that set, is not a branch of any government or legislative entity, and this organization has no such enforcement power¹. Therefore, this org can not itself create public facing “regulations" with any force of law. The fact that some legislatures have adopted portions of WCAG 2.x into there own laws, statutes, or regulations is not withstanding, and does not in itself elevate AGWG created guidelines to that legislative level.

Potential Liability Side Note
That said, while I’m not certain if using the term “regulation” is such a way directly creates any legal liability for this org, it could nevertheless be seen as misleading, and the act of misleading in such a way could undoubtedly create problems, legal and otherwise.

I suggest some alternate definitions:

Regulation — A “regulation” is a rule or code created by a duly appointed authority, in the furtherance of a given law or set of laws, and with the force of law to the extent enforcement power has been granted to the regulating authority.
SHORT: A regulation is a rule imposed by a governmental agency with enforced compliance.

Standard — A “standard” is a set of guidelines, specifications, and/or requirements, established through consensus and approved by a recognized body to establish best practices for the given context of use. By themselves, standards are voluntary unless incorporated into laws, regulations, certification programs, or contractual agreements.

SHORT: A standard is a guideline for achieving a desired result through voluntary conformance.


Conform or Comply
Compliance — Meeting a required standard, regulation, or law.
Conformance — A voluntary adherence to a given policy, standard, or guideline.

Though Section 508 has a slightly different definition<> of compliance and conformance.

However, I found this in depth definition<> of the two words that IMO is more clear and complete.

NOTE 1: Regarding enforcement power, I left out the examples of certification and auditing by an independent certification body. For instance the ISO standard 9001 dealing with quality management, if a manufacturing plant wants to be certified by the independent audit, they need to comply with the standard in order to maintain certification status.

Nevertheless, while the term “shall” is used to define the mandatory standards to conform to for certification, they are still called standards and not regulations.


This organization as a standards body can make standards, like the ISO or SMPTE or IEC, but not regulations. Governmental agencies can make regulations incorporating standards, but that is their purview, not this organization's.

Outside of becoming a governmental organization, the next “bump up” in authority for this organization would be to develop certification standards that an independent auditing body could enforce through certification, similar to the ISO.

But even so, that would still not make the guidelines or standards herein “regulations”. As an international standard, it is up to individual governments to determine the degree that the standards and content herein are codified into law and regulations. It is not for this organization to assert what shall be a regulation. If the term “standard” is good for the ISO, it is good here as well.

Thank you for reading,


Andrew Somers
Senior Color Science Researcher
PerceptEx Perception Research Project<>
redacted for list

On Sep 14, 2022, at 4:17 PM, Mary Jo Mueller <<>> wrote:

Hi all,

I wanted to follow up on discussions we had at TPAC on Tuesday where I expressed (not so eloquently) my reservations with the definitions that had been presented for Policy, Regulation and Compliance. I am attaching a Word document with some definitions culled using various resources and different sectors where these terms are used sometimes with further qualifying words. I hope this better expresses where I’m coming from on these. I have added in some web links I also found helpful.

Best regards,

Mary Jo
Mary Jo Mueller
IBM Accessibility Standards Program Manager

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."  ~John Quincy Adams


Received on Thursday, 15 September 2022 19:47:58 UTC