Global web accessibility standards set to change

Thu 8 February 2018

Computer keyboard with big blue button labelled 'Access'

After almost a decade, the global standard for web accessibility is set to change. 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 people with disability remains relevant.

Since 2008, the definitive guide on how to make content accessible was the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (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 on the horizon. Best described as an extension of the current standard, WCAG 2.1 proposes the addition of 28 new Success Criteria (the testable standards a website should meet). Still technically in draft format as a ‘Candidate Recommendation’, and currently being publicly reviewed, WCAG 2.1 is likely to become an official ‘W3C Recommendation’ in mid-2018.

The W3C describes WCAG 2.1 as:

“…A wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these. These guidelines address accessibility of web content on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general.”

Here's a roundup of what your digital/web, marketing, communications and IT teams need to know about WCAG 2.1:

  • It’s an extension of WCAG 2.0 – if it goes ahead in its current format, it will include all WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria, plus 28 new Success Criteria.
  • It covers mobile accessibility, including small screens and touch interfaces, which means your website will need to be accessible on a mobile device.
  • It includes guidance for mobile app developers.
  • It focuses on accessibility considerations in relation to people with low vision and people with cognitive or learning disability.
  • It factors in new and different ways people are using technology.
  • Content that conforms to WCAG 2.1 also conforms to WCAG 2.0 (these Success Criteria haven’t changed).
  • Until it becomes a W3C Recommendation, WCAG 2.0 remains the official benchmark for assessing accessibility.

If you don’t have any involvement in web design or development, you may find our Beginner’s Guide to Accessible Content handy.

The complete W3C Candidate Recommendation for WCAG 2.1 is available on the W3C website. 

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