The World Wide Web Consortium’s Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is expected to release version 2.2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in 2022. Each version of WCAG has major implications for developers, designers, and website owners — WCAG is considered the international standard for digital accessibility.
The purpose of the WCAG framework is to improve the digital accessibility for people with disabilities. By following the guidelines, website owners can deliver a better experience, regardless of how those users choose to access the internet.
At the time of writing, WCAG 2.2 is a working draft, and the document may change before its official release (no release date has been announced). In this article, we’ll discuss our current interpretations of the revisions. By following the latest version of the guidelines, webmasters can enjoy the numerous benefits of digital accessibility.
Why the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Change
Because technologies change over time, WCAG is regularly updated. In 2021, WAI announced working drafts of WCAG 2.2; the organization is also working on WCAG 3.0, which is expected to include a new evaluation system.
Currently, WCAG success criteria are organized by three levels of conformance:
- Level A - These success criteria are considered essential for basic web accessibility. All websites should conform with Level A criteria.
- Level AA - By meeting these success criteria (in addition to Level A success criteria), websites can be considered reasonably accessible. The site is usable for the majority of people.
- Level AAA - These are the most strict success criteria. All website owners should understand Level AAA success criteria — implementing them may make your site more useful to real-world users — but some types of content aren’t capable of meeting all Level AAA guidelines.
WCAG may be changed to add new success criteria or to change a guideline’s conformance level. Crucially, these changes are backwards-compatible. In other words, while WCAG 2.2 adds new success criteria, it doesn’t remove any guidelines or change any of the language.
For example, Success Criteria (SC) 2.4.7, “Focus Visible” is exactly the same (word-for-word) in both WCAG 2.2 and WCAG 2.0. However, “Focus Visible" was a Level AA guideline in WCAG 2.1; in WCAG 2.2, it is now a Level A guideline.
New Success Criteria in WCAG 2.2
WCAG 2.2 introduces nine new success criteria and makes minor changes to the instructions accompanying several established guidelines. Here’s a brief overview of the new guidelines and why they’re important for some people with disabilities.
Success Criteria 2.4.11, “Focus Appearance (Minimum)” -
Focus indicators identify the part of the page receiving focus. They may be particularly helpful for people who have attention- or memory-related disabilities, as well as people who navigate with a keyboard only (without a mouse).
The revised language of Success Criteria 2.4.11 ensures that focus indicators have appropriate contrast and that they’re identifiable — and not obscured — when active. SC 2.4.11 is a Level AA criterion.
Success Criteria 2.4.12, “Focus Appearance (Enhanced)” -
This Level AAA criterion expands on the requirements in SC 2.4.11. In order to pass 2.4.12, an area of the focus indicator must have a contrast ratio “of at least 4.5:1 between the colors in the focused and unfocused states.”
The contrasting area must be at least twice the area of a 1 CSS pixel perimeter of the unfocused component. As with SC 2.4.11, no part of the focus indicator may be hidden by author-created content.
Success Criteria 2.4.13, "Fixed Reference Points"
This new Level A criterion requires web content with page break locators to provide a way to navigate to each locator. The intent of this guideline is to make web content easier to navigate when using assistive technologies.
For instance, if a book is converted to a digital format, readers may need to navigate to a certain page in order to find the content they need. Some users will access the document with screen readers or other assistive technologies; if those users can’t easily navigate to a specific page break locator, they may encounter issues trying to find something.
Some formats will meet this requirement by default. For instance, PDF documents are generally paginated automatically — the user can easily scan from page to page without additional navigation mechanisms. Of course, PDFs can have other accessibility issues that webmasters need to address.
Success Criteria 2.5.7, "Dragging Movements"
This level AA criteria requires that dragging movement that are used for operations can be achievable by a single pointer without dragging (unless dragging is essential to the function).
For example, consider a kanban app: Users can drag and drop kanban cards from one column to another. The app should also provide a way to move cards without dragging. This improvement accommodates keyboard-only navigation, speech-controlled mouse emulators, and other technologies.
Success Criteria 2.5.8, "Pointer Target Spacing"
This Level AA criterion reads: “For each target, there is an area with a width and height of at least 44 CSS pixels that includes it, and no other targets.”
The purpose of SC 2.5.8 is to ensure that when people select targets with a mouse or other device, they can do so easily without activating other nearby targets. For instance, if a website has several buttons, the buttons should be large enough to allow users to activate them without accidentally clicking an adjacent button.
Success Criteria 3.2.6, "Findable Help"
This Level A criterion requires web pages to provide ways for users to find help. Your site can pass SC 3.2.6 by providing human contact details, a fully automated contact mechanism, a self-help option, or a human contact mechanism (such as an accessible onsite chat).
Most websites with contact pages can pass this guideline — provided that those pages are accessible throughout the site — but it’s important to think carefully about your help resources. Some options like onsite chat may be inconvenient for certain users.
Success Criteria 3.2.7, "Visible Controls"
A “visible control" is a perceivable element that a person can utilize to submit a form, navigate a site, or perform other interactions. SC 3.2.7, “Visible Controls,” is a Level AA guideline that requires these controls to be visible, with several exceptions for case-specific scenarios.
Here’s why that’s important: Some websites use certain interactions to trigger displays. For instance, a site may require a mouseover to show certain options. Some people with disabilities may not be able to find these controls, and the controls may create barriers for people who use alternative input methods.
Success Criteria 3.3.7, "Accessible Authentication"
This Level AA guideline addresses authentication processes that use cognitive function tests. Websites that use cognitive function tests (such as memory-based tests) must provide at least one other authentication method that doesn’t require a cognitive function test. Websites may also pass this criterion by providing assistance mechanisms for users.
For instance, asking users to remember a password is a common type of cognitive function test. If the website allows entries from password manager browser extensions, however, the website has provided a mechanism to allow users to complete the process.
Success Criteria 3.3.8, "Redundant Entry"
For multi-step processes, this guideline requires websites to auto-populate fields or allow users to select information that they’ve previously entered. For example, if a website’s form requires the user to enter their address more than once, the second field should either auto-populate the address information or provide the user with an option to select their address from the previous entry.
This reduces the amount of effort needed to complete processes. “Redundant Entry" is a Level A criterion.
Meeting the Digital Accessibility Guidelines in WCAG 2.2
When WCAG’s authors release working drafts, they ask for public comments, which often results in changes. The official release of WCAG 2.2 will likely include a few updates, but the working draft provides a clear indication of how the new success criteria will function.
All websites should conform with the latest official release of WCAG. However, your goal is to reach the widest possible audience, so it’s a good idea to read about upcoming changes and to improve your website as early as possible. By understanding the intent of the new WCAG success criteria, you can provide an improved user experience.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers audits, training, and other resources for WCAG conformance. We perform testing in accordance with the latest official release of the guidelines, but we’re paying close attention to the changes in WCAG 2.2 and preparing our clients for the updates. To determine whether your site meets the current WCAG standards, get started with a free WCAG 2.1 AA compliance summary.