Last December, we discussed the new update to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which will be made official in a few months. WCAG is the world’s most widely used set of technical requirements for making digital content (web pages, apps and electronic documents such as PDF files) fully accessible to people with disabilities.
The current version, WCAG 2.0, is in use in many countries across the world. Its detailed instructions and “success criteria” make it possible for 1.3 billion people with disabilities – a huge population of users – to successfully interact with companies and websites online. The United States alone has 62 million people with various types of disabilities.
The new update, four years in the making, is known as WCAG 2.1. After a series of published drafts and much gathering of community feedback, the final draft – called the candidate recommendation – was released on January 301. Public comments on this draft will be accepted until March 30, and the complete and final WCAG 2.1 is expected to be published in June at the latest.
WCAG 2.1 doesn’t replace the 2.0 version. It’s an extension (add-on), tackling some additional accessibility barriers that aren’t addressed by 2.0 alone. If a website already complies with WCAG 2.0, then applying 2.1 is a simple matter of considering a few additional success criteria. These requirements are mainly related to mobile devices, disabilities that affect vision (such as colorblindness), and disabilities that affect cognitive function (such as attention deficit disorder and age-related cognitive decline).
Digital Accessibility is Achievable
Digital barriers can be a form of discrimination against people with disabilities because they can prevent these individuals from being able to fill out web forms or browse through online information. The adjustments required to make a website accessible are not complicated or burdensome. They might include something as simple as increasing the size of a touch target (the area where the user must tap the screen) so that people with reduced fine-motor control can use it or adjusting a background colour so that people with vision difficulties can see the words on the screen.
Some business owners unfamiliar with digital accessibility may believe that making a website barrier-free is overwhelming, difficult and costly. It’s understandable that those without much experience with or knowledge of accessibility might feel that way. But talk to a company that has already taken steps to welcome people with disabilities online, and you’ll change your mind – and see the value of considering the needs of this target audience.
Not only does an accessible site provide a more engaging experience for a wider audience overall, it is also entirely feasible to put accessible features into place. Just as you might hire an accounting firm to handle your financial records, or a commercial realtor to assist with the relocation of your headquarters, you can hire an experienced firm to evaluate and monitor your digital properties to ensure they are free, and remain free, of barriers for individuals with disabilities.
WCAG 2.1’s Evolution
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are developed by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. It’s part of a subgroup of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that specifically focuses on digital accessibility, and it’s made up of experts from many different regions who collaborate online. Not only is this working group responsible for the new update to WCAG, it’s also dedicated to creating support materials, such as how-to documents and examples, to make it easier for everyone to implement the requirements.
After all, no one wins if WCAG is complex, onerous and off-putting. It must be a resource that web designers, organizations and business owners, large and small, will all be able to readily use. That’s why WCAG 2.1 has gone through so many stages, with so much community input, to reach consensus among the world’s experts in digital accessibility.
Case in point: The previous 2.1 working draft, which was published in September 2017, included 21 new success criteria that are not in WCAG 2.0. Public comments were accepted and reviewed. By the time the candidate recommendation was published in January, four of these success criteria had been dropped. In fact, if you look back over the past year, since the first public working draft of WCAG 2.1 was released, over 500 accessibility issues have been discussed. In the final draft, only 17 new success criteria are recommended for WCAG 2.1. There’s not even a guarantee that all 17 will be part of the final published guidelines, since public feedback is still being received, and consensus may not necessarily be reached.
The aim is to have a set of technical requirements that everyone agrees are reasonable and that address the most critical of the barriers not dealt with by WCAG 2.0’s list of 63 success criteria.
A Taste of WCAG 2.1
Here are just a few of the barriers that are mentioned in the candidate recommendation for WCAG 2.1:
- People with limited vision may need to enlarge a page to see its contents. If it doesn’t zoom properly, it can cause horizontal scroll.
- These individuals may also have difficulty seeing graphics on a page if they are in low-contrast colours.
- If authentication requires the user to be able to memorize or remember information, this can be a barrier to someone with a cognitive disability.
- People who have limited hand dexterity might not be able to touch a screen with two fingers, or perform a timed gesture. Thus if a function requires a complex gesture instead of a single touch or pointer, this can be a barrier.
- Some people mount their devices on stands or on their wheelchairs to use them. If a function requires motion (shaking or tilting) and doesn’t have the option to be controlled another way, such as with a keyboard, then it can be impossible for someone who isn’t holding the device in their hand.
Since part of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group’s job is to produce instructions and advice for implementing these technical requirements, you can expect that the final version of WCAG 2.1 will include solutions for removing every single one of these barriers. We’re looking forward to the final WCAG 2.1 update in June, knowing that it will make the digital world even more usable and operable for a full one-fifth of our population.
With regards to conformance, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group recommends “that sites adopt WCAG 2.1 as their new conformance target, even if formal obligations mention WCAG 2.0, to provide improved accessibility and to anticipate future policy changes.”2
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.