WCAG 3.0 and the Future of Accessibility Standards
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0 will introduce a new rating system for digital accessibility. Here’s what to expect.
To create an accessible website, you need to test your content against objective standards. That’s where the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) come in.
WCAG is a technical document published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which also creates protocols and guidelines for HTML and CSS. When the W3C issues a recommendation, web developers pay attention — and digital accessibility is an important part of the W3C’s mission.
As of the date of this article’s publication, the latest W3C recommendations are WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release in late 2022.
But there’s another change on the horizon: the W3C is also working on a Working Draft of WCAG 3.0. In this article, we explain what WCAG 3.0 will mean for businesses and content creators.
Looking to uncover accessibility errors on your website? Check it for WCAG 2.1 criteria.
How WCAG 3.0 May Change the Rules for Digital Accessibility
To understand WCAG 3.0, you need to understand how businesses apply the current WCAG standards.
WCAG 2.0, 2.1, and the upcoming 2.2 contain success criteria, which are testable statements that describe accessible practices. Each success criterion falls under at least one of the four foundational principles of WCAG:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface (UI) components must be presentable and perceivable to all users. Nothing should be “invisible” to any of their senses. For example, text alternatives must be provided for any non-text content, and content must be made easier for users to see and hear.
- Operable: Web or device interface and navigation, such as controls and buttons, should be operable in a variety of ways to make sure people with different abilities can use them. For example, making all functionality on a keyboard accessible and providing enough time for users to read and use content.
- Understandable: Content and user interface should be easy to understand by all.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can remain accessible, even as technologies and user agents evolve. Websites should be compatible with current and future user agents, such as browsers and assistive technologies like screen readers.
WCAG success criteria are also organized by three potential conformance levels: Level A (the least strict and most essential criteria), Level AA, and Level AAA (the most strict standards). Conformance means voluntarily following the guidelines.
Websites that conform with all Level AA and Level A success criteria are considered reasonably accessible for most users with disabilities. Read more about the differences between WCAG Level A, AA, and AAA.
WCAG 3.0 Unveils a New Accessibility Grading System
Feeling overwhelmed or confused? Good news: WCAG 3.0 is expected to be much easier to understand. The new guidelines will replace the A/AA/AAA grading with Bronze, Silver, and Gold conformance levels.
According to the W3C authors, WCAG 3.0 outcomes are written to be “in plain language" and more understandable to people who are not experts in technology. Outcomes will also be “more granular" — meaning they will be more of them — and designed to meet a wider variety of the needs of people with disabilities.
WCAG 3.0 will also use an outcome-based model, which is designed to be more flexible. Earlier versions of the document use basic pass-or-fail success criteria. In other words, if your content failed any WCAG Level AA guidelines, you cannot claim that your website follows WCAG Level AA.
Unless WCAG 3.0 changes significantly — which is certainly possible — here’s how the new model will work:
- Each WCAG 3.0 standard contains outcomes, which are similar to the current format’s success criteria.
- Outcomes will be rated on a scale of 0 to 4.
- Critical errors (for example, when a user cannot fill out a form or complete another essential task) will result in the lowest possible score for the outcome.
When Will W3C Release WCAG 3.0?
WCAG 3.0 is still a Working Draft. It’s not an official recommendation, and it’s likely to remain a draft for the foreseeable future.
While the W3C plans to publish WCAG 3.0 in 2023, it’s worth noting that they also planned to officially recommend WCAG 2.2 in 2021. That didn’t happen — WCAG 2.2 is currently scheduled for a late-2022 release after a number of delays.
It’s possible that WCAG 3.0 won’t become official guidance for several years. The W3C has a long, intensive process for developing new standards. That process serves an important purpose: WCAG must be applicable to all digital content, and every guideline needs to be achievable.
Should I Follow WCAG 3 or WCAG 2?
You don’t need to start reviewing WCAG 3.0 right away. As of now, businesses should conform to WCAG 2.1, W3C's official recommendation.
Some of the guidelines in WCAG 3.0 will likely change before its publication, but it will likely contain all of the success criteria from each version of WCAG 2.X. It will also contain content from two other important accessibility standards:
- The User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (UAAG), which contains guidelines for web browsers, media players, and other applications that render web content.
- The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG), which contains guidelines for HTML editors and other authoring software.
Part of the goal of WCAG 3.0 is to create a single, wide-ranging document that addresses all aspects of digital accessibility. However, WCAG 3.0 will not radically change the accessibility requirements for most content creators.
It’s also important to note that WCAG 3.0 will not deprecate earlier standards. That means that WCAG 3.0 won’t make WCAG 2.X outdated — the W3C will continue to recommend WCAG 2.X after the official publication of WCAG 3.0.
The bottom line: If your website follows WCAG 2.1 Level AA, you’re in a great position.
Start Your Website Accessibility Journey with AudioEye
An accessible website is a powerful tool for your business. More than 1 billion individuals worldwide live with disabilities, and by following WCAG, you can provide an equivalent experience for them. Adopting the latest accessibility best practices can also help improve compliance with non-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
If you’re ready to improve your content, AudioEye can help. Our platform provides real-time insights into accessibility issues to help you create barrier-free content. Get started by testing your website for accessibility errors.