Updated WCAG Standards Drive Digital Inclusion: What does it mean for you?

The latest accessibility guidelines expand on existing standards

A woman uses an iPad.

The new guidelines primarily address accessibility barriers related to mobile touch screen devices.

February 4, 2019

Since 1999, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in partnership with individuals and organizations around the world, have provided the de facto standards for making digital content accessible to people with disabilities.

In its infancy, WCAG focused exclusively on HTML, but still gave people instant access to a world full of information. Version 2.0, however, reframed the guidelines more broadly so they could be applied to rich internet applications and software. This was critical because digital technology has since evolved at an increasingly rapid pace. Just think, ten years ago, touch screens and mobile apps didn’t even exist, while Blackberry devices were the hottest gadgets around. So to keep up with the pace of technological evolution, new standards were required to ensure information and communication technology remained accessible to people with disabilities.

Which brings us to today. The long-awaited WCAG update, version 2.1, was finally published by the W3C in June of last year. These new standards were quickly adopted overseas, with the three official European Standards Organizations integrating the guidelines into their standards for information and communication technology products and services. It’s only logical to now expect the International Standards Organization to adopt WCAG 2.1 as they did for WCAG 2.0 in 2012.

In anticipation of widespread adoption then, there are a few things worth knowing:

What has changed?

It’s important to understand WCAG 2.1 is an extension of 2.0, not a replacement. That means if you’ve relied on 2.0 standards to make your website or application accessible, you’re already most of the way there. Version 2.1, though, adds 17 new success criteria to the 61 that were already part of the existing guidelines. These new success criteria primarily address accessibility barriers related to mobile touch screen devices, users with low vision, and users with cognitive and learning disabilities. Additionally, there are success criteria that will make it easier to operate a website or application using spoken commands, which will help people with motor disabilities and promise a broader benefit for users of smart home devices as voice user interfaces evolve in the future.

Should your organization meet the new standards?

If you’ve already undertaken the effort to make your digital channels accessible based on WCAG 2.0, I suggest continuing that effort and implementing a phased approach to meet the new criteria outlined in version 2.1. However, if you’re in the early stages of redesigning your website or mobile app (or creating a new one) it’s in your best interest now to focus on meeting the newest guidelines right from the start. Doing so will ensure  your digital channels are optimized for mobile devices, benefiting not only persons with disabilities, but all users who wish to do business with your company through mobile browsers or apps designed for mobile operating systems.

Need Help?

Perkins Access works with organizations around the world to help make their digital experiences accessible to people with disabilities. We can evaluate your company’s website or mobile app against the Web Content Accessibility Guideline and make recommendations for meeting the success criteria that are part of WCAG 2.1.

Gary Aussant is the director of digital accessibility with Perkins Access.

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