@Rick, I didn't specifically look at doctype, but Steve Faulkner did in his original article (see the link at the top of this post). He found that 101 of the 130 pages containing role="main" (78%) used the HTML5 doctype, which of course leaves 22% that didn't. I do recommend using ARIA even if using an earlier doctype. Validation is important, but if validation and accessibility conflict, I think most would agree accessibility should trump validation. Assistive technologies that support ARIA landmarks do so regardless of doctype, and otherwise the presence of these role attributes has no ill effects in any user agent.
The guidelines are broken down by four main principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Under each principle, there are guidelines that provide specific goals a website should work toward. Under each guideline, there are testable success criteria. Those criteria are graded A, AA, or AAA. This grade shows the level of conformity to accessibility, AAA being the highest. The law only requires A and AA guidelines to be met.