The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) establishes standards for testing digital content for accessibility — but current versions of WCAG use pass-or-fail rules, which aren’t exactly flexible.
That will change with WCAG 3.0, which is expected to introduce a new testing methodology that focuses on “outcomes.” The outcome-based model will allow WCAG to be more applicable to different types of content, including future technologies that haven’t been invented yet.
But before you start testing your website or mobile app against WCAG 3.0, here’s what you need to know.
WCAG 3.0 will address the need for standardized accessibility testing
One of the major changes in WCAG 3.0 is the introduction of two types of accessibility testing, which now have detailed requirements:
- Quantifiable tests have a “high degree of consistency" between results from different tests or testers. For example, WCAG’s color contrast requirements can be tested with a high degree of consistency; if a website has low-contrast text, the website will always fail the test.
- Qualitative tests may vary between testers who understand the criteria. For example, two testers may disagree about whether an image’s alternative text (also called alt text) accurately describes the image.
WCAG 3.0 will include a great deal of guidance for testers. The intent is to standardize accessibility audits, requiring certain methods (including a combination of manual and automated tests) and establishing specifications for reports.
That will be important with the transition to an outcome-based model, which gives creators more flexibility when meeting certain requirements.
To claim conformance with WCAG 3.0, websites will need to work with testers who understand the new rules. However, standardized testing should help organizations of all sizes understand their obligations.
As WCAG 3.0 continues to develop, the authors intend to define clear procedures for accurate, reliable, and repeatable tests. At this stage, the testing requirements look fairly similar to best-practice audit procedures for earlier versions of WCAG.
WCAG 3.0 isn’t ready for primetime — and won’t be ready for some time
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes WCAG, along with the international standards for HTML (HyperText Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and various other technologies that support the internet.
Right now, WCAG 3.0 is in the working draft stage, which means that it isn’t an official recommendation. Developers, users, and other stakeholders can submit comments at this stage, and the process takes time. Read more about the W3C’s process for creating new accessibility standards.
The bottom line: Until WCAG 3.0 becomes an official recommendation, you should not use it to test your content — instead, you should follow the W3C’s official recommendations (currently, WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release this year)
It’s also important to note that WCAG 3.0 will not deprecate earlier versions of the guidelines. Many of the standards from WCAG 2.X appear word-for-word in WCAG 3.0.
Robust web accessibility testing helps you develop better content
WCAG 3.0 probably won’t be an official recommendation for several years. In the meantime, the W3C is preparing WCAG 2.2, which improves on WCAG 2.1 by introducing several new requirements and recategorizing some older requirements.
For developers and content creators, however, there’s a simple rule: Use the latest official recommendation to test your content — and test regularly. If your website meets the Level A/AA criteria of WCAG 2.1, you’re in a great position for conformance with WCAG 2.2, and you’ll be in a great position when WCAG 3.0 is officially released.
The important takeaway is to start testing. When you test content regularly, you can address accessibility issues before they become a permanent part of your website. That means lower long-term development costs, cleaner code, and — most importantly — a better experience for your users.
If you’re new to digital accessibility, you can get started with the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free automated website analysis, which tests content against the W3C’s current official recommendation. Supplement your automated tests with manual testing, which should be performed by people who have experience with assistive technologies.
To start building your strategy for web accessibility compliance, read: How to Check WCAG Compliance: A Quick Guide. For additional guidance, send us a message to connect with an expert.