Web accessibility isn’t just about compliance — but compliance is certainly an important consideration. The number of web accessibility lawsuits continues to climb each year, and a single Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) demand letter can lead to thousands of dollars in legal expenses.
But while the ADA applies to websites, it doesn’t contain specific technical standards for digital content. Instead, the DOJ recommends following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of standards published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Recently, the W3C published WCAG version 2.2, which contains several new requirements. For content creators, that prompts an important question: For compliance, should you use WCAG 2.2, or an earlier version of the standards?
The best practice is to use the latest official W3C recommendation, which is currently WCAG 2.2. Below, we’ll explain how the recommendation process works and provide tips for building your accessibility compliance strategy.
WCAG 2.2 provides the best path to digital compliance
Many countries have non-discrimination laws that require digital accessibility, but currently, many of those laws lack technical standards (including the ADA).
When digital accessibility laws cite specific standards, they tend to cite WCAG — but usually, they reference an earlier version of the guidelines. For example, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ADA) require conformance with WCAG 2.0.
But as internet technologies have changed, so has WCAG. In 2018, WCAG 2.1 became an official recommendation, with new requirements that focused on the experiences of mobile users. WCAG 2.2 goes further, adding new requirements for accessible authentication, help resources, and more.
Future digital accessibility laws will use newer versions of WCAG
It’s very likely that lawmakers will take those changes into consideration. The DOJ is currently considering technical standards for Title II of the ADA, which will likely use WCAG 2.1 (or possibly, WCAG 2.2).
Here, it’s important to note that new versions of WCAG are additive: They contain all of the success criteria from previous versions, word-for-word. If content conforms with WCAG 2.1, it automatically conforms with WCAG 2.0.
The bottom line: Testing content with WCAG 2.2 can improve compliance with current digital accessibility laws — along with future laws, which are certainly on their way.
The W3C recommends using the latest version of WCAG for testing web content
WCAG 2.2 is an official recommendation, which means that the W3C endorses its “wide deployment.” As the latest version of WCAG, it’s the most comprehensive resource that creators have for testing content for accessibility.
And while WCAG 2.2 is an important update, it’s not radically different from earlier versions. WCAG 2.2 contains nine new success criteria, and actually removes one of the success criteria that was present in WCAG 2.1 (WCAG Success Criterion 4.1.1, “Parsing").
Testing your content against WCAG 2.2 won’t create unnecessary work for your team, but it will certainly provide a better experience for your users.
To test content against WCAG 2.2, use a combination of automated and manual methods
The W3C recommends a hybrid approach for testing conformance with WCAG. Automated tools can identify many basic accessibility barriers, while human testers can evaluate the issues that require subjective judgment.
To build a robust compliance strategy, keep these tips in mind:
- Start thinking about accessibility as early as possible. Many barriers are much easier to fix during the early stages of development, particularly if you’re working on a mobile app or a complex web app.
- Set clear goals. Most websites should aim for conformance with WCAG 2.2’s Level A and Level AA success criteria. Learn about the differences between WCAG conformance levels.
- Share the responsibility. Review the four principles of WCAG with designers, developers, and content creators; don’t assign the work to a single person or team.
- Publish an accessibility statement. An accessibility statement shows your commitment to users with disabilities, and it’s a helpful resource — even if you’re still working on conformance.
With automated testing, expert manual remediations, and extensive training resources, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility can help you create a long-term, self-sustainable digital compliance strategy.