On October 5, 2023, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) officially released the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2.
WCAG is the international standard for digital accessibility. The guidelines are occasionally updated — and “occasionally" is the key term. It’s been just over five years since the publication of WCAG 2.1, and the accessibility community has been waiting for more than two years for WCAG 2.2 to become the law of the (digital) land.
The long-awaited update introduces two new Level A success criteria, four new Level AA success criteria, and three new Level AAA success criteria. Otherwise, it’s mostly identical to WCAG 2.1, but the new criteria are certainly important for real-life users.
Below, we’ll explain several major takeaways from WCAG 2.2’s official publication and provide tips for earning conformance with the new success criteria.
1. WCAG 2.2 is expected to be the last version of WCAG 2.X
From this point forward, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will focus their attention on WCAG 3.0.
The group has said that they will “probably not do another version of WCAG 2,” so WCAG 2.3 is not on the way — of course, that could change. WCAG 3 is expected to introduce a new conformance system and other broad changes, which could take years to design and test.
If digital technologies change substantially, WCAG 2.3 could become a reality. For now, though, WCAG 2.3 is the last planned version of WCAG 2.
2. WCAG 2.2 focuses on making navigation and interaction accessible
All of the new criteria in WCAG 2.2 address accessibility issues that affect how people interact with content. The requirements are applicable to both mobile apps and websites — and generally, they’re common-sense suggestions for creating a better user experience.
The new Level A and AA criteria include:
- Success Criterion (SC) 2.4.1, “Focus Not Obscured,” which requires that when an item gets keyboard focus, that focus is at least partially visible.
- SC 2.5.7, “Dragging Movements,” which requires that actions that involve dragging can be completed using a simple pointer alternative.
- SC 2.5.8, “Target Size,” which sets requirements for pointer target sizes and spacing.
- SC 3.2.6, “Consistent Help,” which requires that help resources appear in the same place across multiple pages.
- SC 3.3.7, “Redundant Entry,” which requires that information previously entered by (or provided to) the user does not need to be reentered by the user later in the process.
- SC 3.3.8, “Accessible Authentication,” which requires alternative mechanisms for login processes.
For additional details about the new success criteria, read: What’s New in WCAG 2.2: New Success Criteria for Digital Accessibility.
If your website already conforms with WCAG 2.1 Level A/AA, you don’t need to do too much work to meet WCAG 2.2 Level A/AA. More importantly, the new criteria aren’t a burden — and they can improve experiences for all users.
3. WCAG 2.2 is the first version of WCAG 2 that is not fully backward compatible
WCAG 2.2 removes success criterion (SC) 4.1.1, “Parsing,” which requires content that uses markup languages to have complete start and end tags, to next elements appropriately, and to follow other best practices of parsing.
The W3C recognized that this criterion is basically obsolete. Modern user agents can handle incomplete tags, incorrect element nesting, and other parsing issues. That’s required under the HTML standard — and other WCAG criteria address the types of markup issues that actually impact users with disabilities.
If you’re not ready for a deep dive into HTML theory, here’s the important takeaway: WCAG 2.2 is the first (and potentially, the last) version of WCAG to actually remove a success criterion. Previously, each new version of the guidelines contained all of the criteria from earlier versions, word for word.
As such, the decision to remove a criterion is somewhat controversial in the accessibility community. That highlights the challenges that the W3C faces when issuing a new version of WCAG: Creating a universal set of standards that apply to all types of digital content is difficult — and as technology changes, WCAG needs to change, too.
4. Content creators should start using WCAG 2.2 immediately
As of this month, WCAG 2.2 is an official recommendation. It’s very likely that digital accessibility laws will use WCAG 2.2 as a framework in the near future, and the new criteria benefit the end user — outside of strict compliance considerations, there’s no reason to use an earlier version of WCAG.
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we’re dedicated to building sustainable strategies for digital accessibility. We’ve been preparing for WCAG 2.2 by updating our automated auditing tools and manual testing methods, and we’re excited to help our clients find new ways to improve their content.
If you’re ready to get started, send us a message to connect with an expert. Or, to learn more about WCAG 2.2, download our free eBook: Checklist for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2 A/AA.