In October 2023, the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines — WCAG 2.2 — became the new global standard for accessible web design. Nine new success criteria appear in WCAG 2.2, which otherwise largely echoes the 2.1 edition.
Among the new criteria, you’ll find Success Criterion (SC) 3.2.6, “Consistent Help.” This is a Level A success criterion, which means it’s the lowest level of conformance. Every site should comply with this guideline. But what does consistent help mean, and how can developers build it into their sites?
Here’s an overview of SC 3.2.6, “Consistent Help,” along with a few actionable tips for maintaining conformance.
Tips for Conforming to WCAG 2.2. SC 3.2.6, “Consistent Help”
Put simply, SC 3.2.6 requires web designers to place certain resources in the same location on every page on which they appear. The goal is to make it easy for every user — including people with cognitive, visual, and other disabilities — to find help.
If your resources appear in different places on different pages, users might have a hard time locating them. Success Criterion 3.2.6 is designed to avoid this poor user experience.
Here are a few tips that can help you conform with SC 3.2.6, “Consistent Help.”
1. Know which features WCAG considers “help mechanisms.”
What is a “help mechanism” according to WCAG 2.2? The category doesn’t include every accessibility tool on your site. In this context, a “help mechanism” refers to means of getting assistance from other humans, automated systems, or self-help tools.
Specifically, SC 3.2.6 lists the following four items as help mechanisms:
- Contact information (for human assistance)
- A contact mechanism for humans (a live chat box, for example)
- Self-help tools (such as feature walkthroughs)
- Automated contact systems (like chatbots)
To conform with SC 3.2.6, these are the components to watch. Note that SC 3.2.6 only applies to web pages that offer these help mechanisms. It does not require sites to provide them or to post them on every page.
2. Track the help mechanisms that occur on multiple pages.
Consistent help refers to the location of assistance components from one page to the next. Conformance with SC 3.2.6 requires these mechanisms to be placed in the same place for every page on which they appear.
To meet this criteria, then, you only need to check help mechanisms that appear on multiple pages.
3. Post help mechanisms in the same place on every page.
The goal of SC 3.2.6 is to make it easy for users to get support. When resources appear consistently from one page to the next, they’re easier to find. So the core requirement of SC 3.2.6 is for designers to locate help mechanisms in the same predictable place on every page.
In other words, place help mechanisms, as WCAG 2.2 says, “in the same order relative to other page content” on each page. That doesn’t mean you must provide help mechanisms on every page. It just means that, if these components appear on multiple pages, they do so in a consistent location.
4. Determine whether help mechanisms should be posted on a separate, linked page.
You can post help mechanisms directly on a page, or you can provide a link to a separate help page. Both options conform to WCAG 2.2.
Designers have to make a judgment call. What’s most helpful for your users: direct access to tools or a link to a separate page?
Posting help mechanisms on pages simplifies access for most users. However, if you offer lots of tools, or if your help mechanisms require detailed explanations, all that extra content can be distracting. In that case, you might provide a better experience by linking to another page.
Either way, keep the location of tools or the link consistent across pages.
5. Focus on maintaining consistency across similar page presentations (i.e., orientation, zoom level, etc.)
Users may manipulate the presentation of your web page. They might zoom in or out, change devices, or switch orientations. These changes can bring up a different page variation, which may alter the order of your content.
To conform with SC 3.2.6, you don’t need to keep help mechanisms in the same place no matter how the user changes the page. Instead, WCAG 2.2 states that “this criterion is concerned with relative order across pages displayed in the same page variation.”
As long as you design pages to keep help mechanisms consistent within each page variation, your site should conform with SC 3.2.6.
Test Your Site for Conformance With WCAG
Now that WCAG 2.2 is the leading global standard for web accessibility, web developers should strive for compliance. That’s an ongoing task that starts with periodic testing.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers a blend of automated and manual testing to uncover accessibility issues, including those listed in WCAG 2.2. Start testing your site with a free accessibility audit today.
Continue your research on SC 3.2.6, “Consistent Help” — and all eight other new success criteria — by downloading our free eBook, Checklist for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2 A/AA.