Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are a set of web standards that ensure the Internet is a more inclusive and accessible space for all. They provide a set of formal guidelines for website owners, authors and developers to create accessible web content for users of all abilities. Under the W3C, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) developed WCAG 2.0 to produce standards and guidelines to make the web accessible for people with disabilities.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are the most current and comprehensive in a series of Web accessibility guidelines published by the W3C. These guidelines assist developers in making content accessible, not only for individuals with disabilities but for all users.
The goals of WCAG are to:
- Connect the world through common information technology and user experience standards;
- Provide best practices for multiple types of devices and software; and
- Continually evolve and adapt through frequent review and community support.
What is WCAG compliance?
WCAG compliance guidelines apply to dynamic content, multimedia, mobile content and non-web information and communications technologies. As defined by the guidelines, to achieve WCAG compliance, success criteria are organized around four principles. Digital content must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust in order to be accessible to all users:
- Perceivable content means that all users must be able to perceive and understand all digital content and information featured on a website.
- Operable content means that all users must be able to easily navigate information throughout the website.
- Understandable means that all users should be able to follow, read and digest digital information displayed on a website.
- Robust means digital content should be compatible with assistive technologies and should evolve with assistive technologies.
WCAG has three levels of conformance categorized, Level A, Level AA and Level AAA. Level A indicates a lower level of conformance, while AAA indicates the highest level. The standard conformance category is Level AA.
What is the difference between WCAG 2.0 and 2.1?
WCAG 2.0 focuses on website content and structure. As a technical standard, WCAG 2.0 primarily establishes guidelines, mainly used by web content developers and tool developers to make websites accessible for people with disabilities.
Version 2.1 does not change any of the success criteria established by version 2.0. It simply includes 17 additional success criteria. Primarily, the new criteria were created to fill existing gaps in WCAG 2.0 by addressing:
- Mobile accessibility
- People with low vision
- People with cognitive disabilities
To better understand what you need to know about WCAG 2.1, read our blog 5 Things to Know about WCAG 2.1.
Who should follow WCAG standards?
In January 2017, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 adopted the WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria, meaning any federal agency (or their respective subcontractors) must ensure their digital content complies with Level AA of the WCAG 2.0. Additionally, the Department of Education (Office of Civil Rights), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Transportation, U.S. District Courts, and various State Courts have consistently demonstrated the enforcement of website accessibility using WCAG standards as the benchmark. Consistently, established legal precedents require conformance with WCAG guidelines to fulfill obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Around the world, other countries are introducing website accessibility laws that reference the use of WCAG 2.0 Standards. WCAG 2.0 has become a global standard for website accessibility.
WCAG is quickly being embraced as the international standard and has been directly referenced or adopted by 14 countries and the European Union. Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom use or base their laws off of WCAG 2.0 for website accessibility.
As a globally adopted set of standards, it is recommended that any business, education institution, federal, state and local government agencies with an online presence comply with WCAG, ensuring their platforms are accessible to users of all abilities. Without WCAG compliance, these institutions, agencies, and organizations face the risk of costly web accessibility lawsuits.