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WCAG 2.1: What You Need to Know

Jan 3, 2018

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are perhaps the most well-known and frequently used standards for web accessibility. The most recent version of the guidelines is WCAG 2.0, released in December 2008.

Of course, web technologies and concepts of good accessibility have both changed significantly over the last nine years. Enter WCAG 2.1: the latest draft version of WCAG, which is currently under revision. The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group is still accepting comments it plans to make the WCAG 2.1 a Candidate Recommendation (a stable draft) in late January 2018. If all goes smoothly, the new guidelines could come into force as early as summer 2018.

Before this happens, however, you should be aware of what WCAG 2.1 includes and what effects it’s expected to have. Below, you’ll find an overview of the proposed changes in WCAG 2.1, as well as how the new guidelines will impact the bottom line for accessibility in your organization.

What’s New in WCAG 2.1?

Rather than replacing or modifying WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1 is intended to enhance it, filling in some of the gaps left by the previous guidelines. For example, WCAG 2.1 will continue to use the three accessibility tiers for the guidelines — Levels A, AA, and AAA, in order of increasing accessibility — but it plans to add multiple “success criteria” to each level.

By tier, we’ll cover a few of the most important additions to the success criteria in WCAG 2.1:

Level A

  • Authentication: Users do not have to memorize or transcribe information in order to authenticate themselves on a website, unless this information is basic personal data, such as name or social security number, or unless this is not possible for legal reasons.
  • Character Key Shortcuts: In order to avoid conflict with accessibility software, such as screen readers, keyboard shortcuts consisting of character keys (letters, numbers, punctuation, and symbols) can be remapped to non-character keys.
  • Accidental Activation: Events that use single pointer activation (i.e., contacting the screen with a mouse cursor, pen, or touch) are only triggered on the “up event” (e.g., releasing the mouse button or removing the finger).

Level AA

  • Zoom: Users can zoom in on content up to a width of at least 320 pixels without losing functionality.
  • Color Contrast: In general, essential graphical objects and user interface components must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.

Level AAA

  • Contextual Information: Content that uses markup languages such as HTML should have sufficient semantic information organized according to a publicly available metadata dictionary or taxonomy, so that it can be machine-readable in both function and purpose.
  • Target Size: The targets of single pointer activation (e.g., buttons) must be at least 44x44 pixels.

What are the Next Steps for WCAG 2.1?

As of this writing, the WCAG 2.1 authors are issuing a “last call” for comments from the general public, to be submitted before January 12, 2018. In order to submit a comment, you can create an issue in the W3C WCAG 2.1 GitHub repository.

After the WCAG 2.1 Working Group makes the new guidelines a Candidate Recommendation, which is expected early next year, W3C members will hold a formal vote on whether to adopt WCAG 2.1. If the vote is successful, the group will issue another call for comments in order to make any minor changes before WCAG 2.1 becomes a final and formal Recommendation.

Final Thoughts

WCAG 2.1 will be backward-compatible with 2.0, which will help ease the pain as organizations move over to the new standards. Still, because WCAG is such a popular metric for accessibility, it’s important to be aware of what these changes will bring well in advance. As always, consider partnering with experts who will help you form an ongoing remediation plan so that you can stay on top of the constantly shifting regulations and recommendations in web accessibility.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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