WCAG 3.0 May Introduce New Rating Scale for Accessibility

August 11, 2021

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative is considering a new conformance model for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0.

Each new version of WCAG has introduced substantial changes to the standards. The goal is to make the web more accessible for everyone — and to that end, the guidelines need to be regularly adjusted for changes in technology. New versions of WCAG also attempt to address more users with disabilities while providing understandable, useful information for website owners and content creators.

Currently, WCAG 2.1 “success criteria" that are divided into three compliance levels: A, AA, and AAA. Sites that fulfill all of the A or AA criteria are typically considered sufficiently accessible for real-world users (this article provides more information about current conformance requirements).

The new conformance model, introduced in the W3C Accessibility Guidelines 3.0 Working Draft, would replace the current system of pass/fail criteria with new score-based outcomes. The goal is to make the next set of WCAG standards more flexible to accommodate different types of tools, apps, organizations, and web content, as well as to improve the document’s understandability.

Currently, WCAG 3.0 is scheduled for publication in 2023, though that could change — the first public working draft was released on Jan. 21, 2021, and the organization is requesting feedback and comments to guide the direction of future updates. 

For website owners and content creators, however, the working draft demonstrates how the next version of the guidelines could differ from the most recent WCAG 2.1, which was published in June of 2018. 

WCAG 3.0 May Introduce Score-Based Outcomes

WCAG 3.0 will likely introduce score-based outcomes, replacing the well-known A/AA/AAA conformance model. This change is intended to provide more flexibility, allowing media creators to conform with the standards when building content that utilizes different technologies. 

Some important takeaways from the current working draft:

  • Each guideline will contain multiple outcomes. These are similar to the WCAG 2.1 success criteria; websites (and practices that reduce or eliminate barriers for people with disabilities.
  • Outcomes may have “critical errors,” which occur when a user cannot complete a process or use a view. Critical errors will result in the lowest possible score for the outcome.

Implications for Websites That Conform with WCAG 2.1 

While WCAG 3.0 will likely have major implications for site owners, it’s important to note that the current working draft is incomplete. The authors of the draft note that “later drafts of WCAG 3 will have most of the accessibility requirements … from WCAG 2,” and that the new version of the guidelines will not deprecate earlier versions.

In WCAG 3.0, additional accessibility requirements are expected to be added from the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG), both of which are published by W3C. Essentially, the new WCAG will act as a comprehensive set of standards, effectively replacing ATAG and UAAG.

That means that for most site owners and content creators, AA or AAA conformance with WCAG 2.1 should help to ensure conformance with WCAG 3.0, but site owners will need to pay attention to the document as it nears publication. As the authors note:

Content that conforms to WCAG 2.2 A & AA is expected to meet most of the minimum conformance level of this new standard but, since WCAG 3.0 includes additional tests and different scoring mechanics, additional work will be needed to reach full conformance.”

Again, the current document is a working draft — the organization plans to release more polished drafts in late 2021 or some time in 2022. With that said, in its current state, the working draft showcases some significant changes ahead for the world’s most widely accepted accessibility standards. 

As we’ve pointed out in other articles, site owners should always treat accessibility as a priority to conform with WCAG and other standards. That process starts with a thorough evaluation of your site’s WCAG 2.1 conformance.

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