Global web accessibility standards have officially changed

Tue 26 June 2018

W3C WCAG 2.1 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

After almost a decade, the global standard for web accessibility has changed. With a stronger focus on accessibility in relation to mobile devices, people with low vision and people with cognitive or learning disability, it’s an important step to ensure online inclusion for everyone.

The new standard is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1. It covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible.

In this article, you’ll find out:

  • More about the WCAG
  • Important points about the new standard
  • Information to support your organisation’s transition to the new standard
  • What you can do to improve online access for people with disability

What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?

The WCAG address accessibility of web content, websites and web applications on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. They help web designers and developers make web content more accessible to everyone. In particular, older people and people with disability, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and learning disabilities and cognitive limitations.

The WCAG include four layers of guidance. At the top are four principles that provide the foundation for web accessibility. Under the principles are guidelines – basic goals you can work towards to make content more accessible. Under each guideline there are testable success criteria. And under these are a wide variety of techniques. The success criteria have three levels of conformance: Level A (lowest), Level AA and Level AAA (highest).

What's changed?

Since 2008, the definitive guide on how to make content accessible was the WCAG version 2.0. A global standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, WCAG 2.0 was endorsed for use by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Now, a decade later, WCAG version 2.1 is now an official W3C Recommendation. Best described as an extension of version 2.0, WCAG 2.1 includes 17 new success criteria (the testable standards a website should meet) and enables website developers to reach a broader audience.

With international uptake of WCAG 2.1 well underway, organisations are encouraged to take steps that will support their transition to the new standard.

“W3C encourages organisations and individuals to use WCAG 2.1 in web content and applications, and to consider WCAG 2.1 when updating or developing new policies, in order to better address the needs of more web and mobile users with disabilities”, said Judy Brewer, Director of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative.

Important points about WCAG 2.1

  • An extension of WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1 has an extra 17 success criteria.
  • WCAG 2.1 expands existing coverage of mobile accessibility and adds more provisions in the areas of low vision, and cognitive and learning disabilities.
  • WCAG 2.1 helps users better understand web content and successfully interact with it.
  • Websites that conform to WCAG 2.1 will also conform to WCAG 2.0, which remains a W3C Recommendation.

Technical notes about WCAG 2.1 to share with web and IT teams

  • For people using mobile devices, WCAG 2.1 improves support for interactions using touch.
  • For people with low vision, WCAG 2.1 extends contrast requirements to graphics and introduces new requirements for text and layout customisation to support better visual perception of content and controls.
  • For people with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities, WCAG 2.1 includes requirements to provide information about the specific purpose of input controls, as well as additional requirements to support timeouts due to inactivity.
  • Comprehensive technical guidance can be found on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative website.

What can you do to improve online access for people with disability?

  • Share this information internally – with leadership teams, those involved in policy development, and web, IT, marketing, communications and design teams.
  • Find out more about how digital accessibility applies to various roles, how people with disability engage with online content, and how to check if your work is accessible. The Centre for Accessibility provides useful information in these areas.
  • Consider how your organisation will ensure accessibility standards are met by suppliers of digital products and services, e.g. by adding accessibility specifications to your procurement documents.
  • Familiarise yourself with basic accessibility practices.
  • Make the most of a wide range of free accessibility information and resources.
  • Create a robust plan for how your organisation will address and maintain accessibility standards.
  • Engage an accessibility consultancy to assess your digital products and services.

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