Why WCAG 2.2 Is Still a Working Draft (And When to Start Preparing)

June 1, 2022

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the basis of many international disability non-discrimination laws, and it’s the de facto standard for digital accessibility. Each new version of the guidelines introduces new considerations for removing online barriers that impact people with disabilities. 

Currently, the latest official version is WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release in September 2022. Of course, that’s not a hard-and-fast deadline: At this time last year, we reported that WCAG 2.2 was expected for publication by June of 2021. Later, the potential release date was moved to the end of the year. 

And while most accessibility experts expect WCAG 2.2 to be finalized  in the next few months, additional delays are possible — perhaps even likely. If your accessibility strategy relies on conformance with the latest version of WCAG, the delays can seem frustrating. So, what’s the holdup? 

How WCAG Changes: A Quick Overview

WCAG 2.2 is still a Working Draft, and to understand why, it’s important to remember the scope of the project. The W3C doesn’t change WCAG very often, and each new success criterion is thoroughly debated before it becomes an official standard. 

That’s by design: WCAG applies to every website on the internet, and if a certain criterion is too specific — or not specific enough — real people will be impacted. Additionally, each version of WCAG is backward-compatible with older versions. If content conforms with WCAG 2.1, it will also conform with WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 1.0. 

In other words, when a new success criterion is added, it becomes a permanent part of WCAG. If the authors rush out a new version of WCAG, they don’t have many options for changing mistakes. 

To that end, each update goes through a rigorous review before it becomes an official publication. After the publication of each Working Draft, the editors accept input from the public. As developers submit their comments and suggestions, the document changes, eventually becoming a Proposed Recommendation. If the technical report has widespread support from W3C members and the public, it is published as an official Recommendation.

Needless to say, that process takes time. Here’s a quick timeline of major WCAG changes: 

  • May 5, 1999 - WCAG 1.0 is introduced with 14 guidelines.
  • December 11, 2008 - WCAG 2.0 adds the four guiding principles of accessibility (perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness), expanding the scope of the document to 61 success criteria.
  • June 5, 2018 - WCAG 2.1 adds an additional 17 success criteria.
  • February 27, 2020 - The W3C releases the First Public Working Draft of WCAG 2.2.

Given that a decade passed between the publication of WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, the scheduled release of WCAG 2.2 is fairly ambitious. The Working Draft has been continually updated since 2020, and additional changes are likely.

Related: Checklist for WCAG 2.2 A/AA

How has WCAG 2.2 changed since the publication of the first Working Draft?

WCAG is a technical document, but it’s intended for an extremely broad audience. As such, most changes during the Working Draft process focus on refining word choice. 

Some recent changes to the WCAG 2.2 Working Draft include: 

These changes don’t fundamentally change the success criteria, but word choice is important. Without clear guidance, developers might make mistakes that leave accessibility barriers intact. For a full list of changes, see the W3C’s “What’s New in WCAG 2.2 Working Draft" resource. 

Related: Checklist for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.2 A/AA

When should I start preparing for WCAG 2.2?

WCAG 2.2 may undergo significant changes over the next few months, but you don’t need to wait for official publication to start preparing for conformance. In fact, the W3C encourages developers to use the Working Draft as guidance and to submit feedback.

With that said, if you’re new to the concepts of digital accessibility, the best course of action is to audit your site for conformance with the current recommendation (WCAG 2.1). After remediating accessibility barriers, you can review the new WCAG 2.2 success criteria to ensure long-term conformance with the guidelines. 

To find out how your website fares when compared with WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines, get started with a free graded accessibility report. For guidance with WCAG 2.2 — and to establish a sustainable plan for digital accessibility — contact our team to speak with a subject matter expert.

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