WCAG 2.0 is a set of technical guidelines for web accessibility.
In a previous article, we discussed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), how they came into being, and why it’s is the world’s most universally accepted set of web accessibility guidelines.
There are not one but two versions of WCAG: 1.0 and 2.0. (In fact, very soon there will be a 2.1 update.) And while WCAG 1.0 was certainly groundbreaking and critically important when it was first developed in 1999, today it’s old news.
WCAG 2.0 was released in 2008, almost a decade after the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) first created its expert-sourced set of accessibility standards for the Internet. Version 2.0 was designed to completely replace WCAG 1.0, and for good reason. In many ways, the first set of standards had become obsolete.
WCAG 1.0 vs WCAG 2.0
In the fast-moving world of technology, a lot can change very quickly. By the time WCAG 1.0 was released, programmers were developing websites in new and different ways. That’s just one reason why an update was needed; version 2.0 takes into account more advanced technologies that aren’t covered by WCAG 1.0. Consider a few of the other key differences between WCAG 1.0 and WCAG 2.01:
- The guidelines in 2.0 are designed to be easier to test, whether by human checkers with expertise, or automatic online testing.
- The 2.0 version reflects efforts to harmonize web accessibility standards that are already in place around the world.
- The usability is improved in version 2.0. For example, it includes concrete instances to make it easier to follow, such as typical accessibility errors that web designers make, along with other resources and support.
Should we be concerned that 2.0 may quickly become obsolete as well? After all, more than eight years have already passed since it first came out.
Not to worry. According to the World Wide Web Consortium, WCAG 2.0 is designed to stay relevant even as brand-new technologies continue to emerge – it is meant to apply to those as well.
Furthermore, an update in the form of WCAG 2.1 will soon be released as a reference tool for some of these emerging technologies. It won’t replace 2.0, and it won’t be necessary for websites to conform to 2.1 in order to be deemed compliant.2
Why Should Your Website Follow WCAG 2.0?
There’s really only one reason for a website to adhere to the WCAG 2.0 standards instead of 1.0, and it’s simple: If it doesn’t, then it’s not considered accessible to people with disabilities.
WCAG 1.0 doesn’t cover nearly all the ground that 2.0 does. There are guidelines in 2.0 that didn’t exist in 1.0, such as an ability to turn off any background sounds. There are other guidelines in 1.0 that are expanded with much more applicability in 2.0. Notably, 1.0 also has content that should no longer be followed at all, as it’s now outdated and can hinder, not help, accessibility.
Note that WCAG 2.0 was designed with backward compatibility, meaning that if your website meets the standards of 2.0, it also satisfies the requirements of 1.0.
Thus your website may be accessible if you’ve made an effort to conform to 2.0, but it surely contains barriers if you’ve only considered the standards for 1.0.
What a Difference a WCAG 2.0 Makes
When your organization’s website follows a broadly accepted web accessibility standard, you are ensuring that people with a variety of disabilities and assistive technologies are able to make full use of your site.
Imagine if you happen to be blind, and you rely on a screen reader to read the text on a website automatically. And then suddenly, when you land on the home page of a restaurant, loud jazz music starts playing, and you can’t hear the speech output from your screen reader. You could turn down your computer’s volume, but that would also lower the volume of your screen reader – not helpful.
When WCAG 2.0 guidelines are followed instead of 1.0, there is a way for the user to stop the music or lower the volume of background sounds without turning down their own computer volume.
Another example of a standard that exists in 2.0 but not 1.0 is providing a title for every single web page. It sounds simple, but it makes a difference. When 2.0 is followed instead of 1.0, a user does not have to click on a link, wait for the page to load and use their assistive technology to read parts of that page… before they have any idea what the link actually leads to!
What’s the difference between WCAG 2.0 and Section 508?
Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act that requires Federal agencies to make their digital information accessible to disabled employees and members of the public. Section 508 requires organizations to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to achieve and maintain web accessibility compliance.
Getting Out of Your WCAG 1.0 Rut
What if your organization’s entire website was designed to adhere to 1.0, and not 2.0? The good news is, given the additional resources, helpful examples and lists of common errors that are included with 2.0, you’ll actually have an easier time understanding the new guidelines and how best to conform to them.
Furthermore, consultants with the expertise in evaluating websites for accessibility can provide you with guidance in updating your website to conform with the proper guidelines.
These consultants should also be able to help remediate PDF documents and make them accessible, as per the techniques for WCAG 2.0 laid out by the W3C .
When you’re already making the effort to ensure your website is inclusive to everyone, it makes sense to do it right. Why accept second-rate accessibility standards? There are different levels of WCAG that organizations can strive for, with WCAG 2.0 AAA being the gold standard.
When you take steps to ensure that your website is compliant, you’ll increase the likelihood that your customers will have a barrier-free online experience.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- Shawn Lawton Henry. How WCAG 2.0 Differs from WCAG 1.0 Web Accessibility Initiative, 15 January 2009.
- Michael Cooper. Wcag 2.1 Under Exploration, Comments Requested By 1 November. Web Accessibility Initiative, 12 October 2016.