Here It Comes: The WCAG 2.1 Update, and How It Affects You

W.C.A.G 2.1

The extensive set of recommendations known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 enables web designers, developers and programmers to ensure that digital technology, such as a website, electronic document or software app, is fully accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG 2.0 is accepted, used and referenced all over the world.

Without this guidance, digital technology might contain barriers that make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use it. For example, websites might include “click here” images that people who are blind have no way to detect, or apps might contain audio-only instructions that people who are deaf cannot listen to.

WCAG 2.0 is an essential resource for anyone striving to ensure that their website, downloadable app, internal office programs, PDF files and so on can be used easily by all individuals, regardless of disability. It helps prevent discrimination against people with disabilities, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Furthermore, it provides organizations with a valuable opportunity to reach out to and include the vast market of customers and clients who have disabilities, or who have family members and friends with disabilities.

The first version of WCAG (1.0) was released in 1999. It was replaced in 2008 by WCAG 2.0. This is still the most up-to-date version in place today. WCAG 2.0 included a variety of improvements over 1.0, addressing more advanced technologies and incorporating more resources and illustrative examples.

As you may have heard, however, the new WCAG 2.1 is coming down the pipe. If you have a stake in accessibility and/or a commitment to a non-discrimination policy, you are likely wondering what WCAG 2.1 might mean for your organization.

Here are 6 things to know about the new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1.

1. We’re getting close to the finish line.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are developed by participants in an international community of experts known as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG 2.1 has actually been in the works for many years, according to task force members, because many of these gaps were identified while WCAG 2.0 was being developed. But there’s been a flurry of more recent activity, leading up to this release.

The most recent working draft, in a series of them, was published on September 19.1 As with previous drafts, public feedback has been invited and encouraged. Coming up on December 5, we’re expecting to see the last working draft of WCAG 2.1. Then a final draft (the “candidate recommendation”) is scheduled to be published on January 23, 2018.2

If this candidate recommendation is accepted, we could see the finalized WCAG 2.1 published by June of next year – if not earlier, according to the WCAG Working Group.

2. WCAG 2.1 doesn’t replace WCAG 2.0.

When WCAG 2.0 came out almost 10 years ago, it was intended to replace WCAG 1.0 completely. It had a new and better structure, most notably the use of “success criteria” to determine whether or not the technical requirements are met and the web content is accessible.

WCAG 2.1 is different, however. It doesn’t take the place of the 2.0 version. Rather, it’s an add-on or an extension, designed to fill gaps that aren’t addressed by WCAG 2.0.

It’s also backwards-compatible. Complying with the technical requirements of WCAG 2.1 doesn’t mean you no longer comply with those of WCAG 2.0. That’s important to know, because currently there are accessibility policies in many jurisdictions, both here and internationally, that make reference to WCAG 2.0 and not 2.1.

Like WCAG 2.0, the new 2.1 is not technology-specific. The document is written to be applicable to any kind of technology or device, whether in use now or yet to be invented.

3. You don’t need to dismantle your WCAG 2.0-friendly website.

If you’ve already made a great effort to remove barriers, and your digital properties already meet the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0, you may be concerned that the release of WCAG 2.1 will mean a big headache for your business. No need to panic – by no means are you back to the drawing board!

As we’ve said, the technical requirements of WCAG 2.1 are meant to be applied in addition to 2.0. So, in fact, if your digital properties currently meet the technical requirements of 2.0 – you’re already ahead of the game.

4. WCAG 2.1 improves accessibility in three main areas.

WCAG 2.1 has been written to address three main areas where accessibility gaps have been identified. These are:

  • Users of mobile devices. Mobile technology has dramatically changed the way we go online. Today we’re using a broader range of devices than ever before, including smartphones and tablets, TVs, wearable technology (e.g. smart watches) and devices in our cars. Compared to traditional desktop computers and laptops, these devices are more likely to have smaller screens and touchscreens, and may be used in a wider variety of settings, such as bright sunlight.
  • Users with low vision (i.e. vision disabilities other than blindness). Issues like light sensitivity, contrast sensitivity, colorblindness, restricted field of vision and visual distortion can have an impact on accessibility needs. WCAG 2.1 provides technical solutions to meet these needs.
  • Users with cognitive disabilities. Intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism and age-related cognitive decline can all affect the way a person uses digital technology. WCAG 2.1 is designed to improve accessibility for these groups.

5. WCAG 2.1 will allow everyone to get more out of your website.

When you comply with the technical requirements of WCAG 2.1, you’ll be making your digital content as accessible as possible for all people with disabilities. But it’s important to keep in mind (and this was also true for WCAG 2.0) that when you put these technical requirements into place, you’ll end up with web content that is easier for everyone to use. That means you’re attracting more customers of all types, not just people with disabilities, who will consequently be enticed to spend more time with your brand online.

6. You don’t have to wait until June.

Next June may be the date of WCAG 2.1’s official debut, but the technical requirements in this document are going to look a lot like those in the final draft that gets published on January 23. There’s no real need to wait until June to start improving accessibility in the areas of mobile usage, users with low vision, users with cognitive disabilities – and, for that matter, everyone else you’d love to engage as a potential customer.

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.

References

  1. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 World Wide Web Consortium, 2017.
  2. WCAG 2.1 Timeline World Wide Web Consortium, 2017.

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