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W3C Makes It Official: WCAG 2.1 is Ready


On June 5, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced a major update to its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the world’s most widely accepted technical standard for digital accessibility1. The new version, WCAG 2.1, expands the guidance provided in the previous iteration, WCAG 2.0, to include more coverage of mobile accessibility and provisions for people with low vision and cognitive and learning disabilities. With these updates, WCAG 2.1 helps organizations to improve inclusion and better serve a wider audience.

newspaper title announcing WCAG 2.1

What is WCAG?

WCAG provides technical specifications to improve the accessibility of web content, websites and web applications on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices for people with a wide range of disabilities, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual disabilities.

W3C is a global community of accessibility experts who are striving to make the internet as inclusive as possible. Its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops WCAG and related resources with input from individuals and organizations around the world.

The guidelines are mainly for the use of web content developers, web authoring tool developers and related professions; they aren’t intended to be an introduction to accessibility. However, it is helpful for companies and organizations, especially employees who contribute to their digital properties, to have a general understanding of WCAG, its purpose and how it benefits not only people with disabilities, but all users.

What’s Different About WCAG 2.1?

WCAG 2.0, released nearly 10 years ago, contains 12 guidelines for digital accessibility, divided among four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Each guideline has a list of “success criteria,” or requirements (63 in total), for making content – including text, images, sounds, code and markup – more accessible. In addition, WCAG 2.0 has three levels of conformance: A (minimum accessibility), AA (addresses the major, most common accessibility issues) and AAA (the highest standard). Learn more about the basics of web accessibility here.

The success criteria of WCAG 2.0 are included in WCAG 2.1 – the wording of those criteria has not changed. That means that WCAG 2.1 is “backwards compatible” or, as W3C puts it, “Content that conforms to WCAG 2.1 also conforms to WCAG 2.0.”2

What’s new about WCAG 2.1 is that it includes 17 new success criteria3 related to mobile accessibility, as well as provisions that will benefit more people4. The new success criteria are:

1.3.4 Orientation (AA)
1.3.5 Identify Input Purpose (AA)
1.3.6 Identify Purpose (AAA)
1.4.10 Reflow (AA)
1.4.11 Non-Text Contrast (AA)
1.4.12 Text Spacing (AA)
1.4.13 Content on Hover or Focus (AA)
2.1.4 Character Key Shortcuts (A)
2.2.6 Timeouts (AAA)
2.3.3 Animation from Interactions (AAA)
2.5.1 Pointer Gestures (A)
2.5.2 Pointer Cancellation (A)
2.5.3 Label in Name (A)
2.5.4 Motion Actuation (A)
2.5.5 Target Size (AAA)
2.5.6 Concurrent Input Mechanisms (AAA)
4.1.3 Status Messages (AA)

Should You Follow WCAG 2.0 or 2.1?

WCAG 2.1 doesn’t supersede or cancel out WCAG 2.0 – they are both “existing standards” – but W3C encourages organizations to use the most recent version of WCAG when developing or updating their content or digital accessibility policies.

Authorities that enforce major accessibility laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), continue to require that organizations comply with WCAG 2.0, conformance level AA. However, this could change in the future.

If your company or organization is in the process of making its website and other digital tools and technologies accessible and conform to WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA, it’s a good idea to implement the additional 12 success criteria now to ensure maximum accessibility.

If you need assistance to make your digital properties compliant with WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 and meet your organization’s obligations under accessibility laws, contact a reputable accessibility consulting company. They will conduct a thorough accessibility evaluation and a range of tests (including automated, functional and manual testing by people with disabilities). They will work with you and your team to achieve accessibility efficiently and at minimal cost.

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 and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.


  1. W3C Issues Improved Accessibility Guidance for Websites and Applications W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, 2018
  2. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview W3C, 2018
  3. What’s New in WCAG 2.1 W3C, 2018
  4. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 W3C, 2018

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