Claiming Conformance with WCAG? Make Sure You Follow These Steps

December 9, 2021

By following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), your brand can offer a better experience for users with disabilities. The WCAG framework offers three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). 

For most websites, WCAG Level AA conformance is an excellent goal. Content that meets Level AA is generally considered accessible for the majority of web users, and many accessibility laws designate Level AA conformance as a requirement. 

We encourage our clients to promote their achievements, and if you’ve earned Level AA conformance with WCAG, you’ll want to include that information in your accessibility statement. However, you’ll need to ensure that you’re making accurate claims. Here are a few important steps to take when claiming a certain level of conformance with WCAG.

Don’t claim WCAG conformance without evaluating your content

WCAG is published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), but WAI doesn’t evaluate or authenticate conformance claims. Any website can use WCAG conformance logos by using WAI’s HTML markup or by downloading the logo images.

However, claiming conformance doesn’t mean that a site actually follows the best practices of digital accessibility — and publishing an accessibility statement doesn’t provide your brand with protection from accessibility-related litigation. 

Put simply, WCAG conformance is important for real-world users. If your site claims to follow the world’s most frequently cited accessibility guidelines, it shouldn’t contain any major barriers for people with disabilities. Before claiming conformance, test your content thoroughly using an appropriate evaluation methodology.

Read: How Do We Test Website Accessibility & Compliance?

Remember that automated tests cannot prove WCAG conformance

Automated accessibility evaluations can be helpful for finding certain types of issues. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers a free automated WCAG 2.1 AAA compliance summary using our A11Y® platform, which can locate failures for many WCAG Level A/AA checkpoints.

However, no automated tool can determine whether a page (or website) conforms with WCAG. As WAI notes, “knowledgeable human evaluation is required to determine if a page is accessible.” Automated tools can miss common WCAG failures like inaccurate image alternative text, mislabeled elements, and keyboard navigation issues.

Perform thorough evaluations while building your website. If you’ve waited until the evaluation stage to implement WCAG guidelines, you’ll probably spend more resources remediating issues — but you’ll need to fix every WCAG failure before claiming conformance.

Read: Why Accessibility Should Be A Priority (And How to Start Prioritizing)

Define the scope of your WCAG conformance

If your entire website conforms with WCAG Level AA, you’re in great shape. However, the vast majority of websites have pages with accessibility barriers, and you may want to publish your accessibility statement while you’re still remediating issues.

You don’t need to wait until you’ve fixed every problem to discuss accessibility — but make sure your users are aware that your site is a work in progress. For example, if you’re remediating issues on your e-store, let your users know that they may encounter barriers when browsing that section of your site. 

Additionally, WAI recommends including the following information:

  • Known limitations
  • Measures taken to ensure accessibility
  • Technical prerequisites (such as whether your site requires a certain web browser)
  • Environments in which the content has been tested to work
  • Applicable references to local accessibility laws and policies

Use common terminology when writing your statement. Some readers may be unfamiliar with WCAG, and most will not have detailed knowledge of individual checkpoints. Instead of writing something like “These pages fail Success Criterion 1.4.3,” write “The following pages do not maintain the minimum contrast ratio requirements of WCAG 2.1, and we’re working to fix them.”

Read: Think Twice Before Writing Your Own Accessibility Statement 

Develop a plan to monitor accessibility

Accessibility isn’t a one-time project. If your site changes regularly, you’ll need to continue auditing your content for WCAG conformance. By working with the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, you can plan for long-term success — and by fully conforming with WCAG 2.1 Level AA, you’ll enjoy the full benefits of digital accessibility.

For more guidance, visit the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s Compliance Roadmap, which contains free tools and resources for building your accessibility initiative.

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