The ABCs of WCAG – Mapping Out an Accessible Future
For anyone who has been working in the digital accessibility field, sometimes it can feel like being lost in an alphanumeric soup! And for those of us in Ontario, you can add the stress of a countdown to 2025, when the province is supposed to be fully accessible under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
If you haven’t really dipped your toes into the muddy waters of digital accessibility, it can be confusing. There’s WCAG 2.0 – that’s the foundation. But what about 2.1? 2.2? And 3.0 is on the horizon? Also, what’s with all the “A”s? What do I need to know about A, AA, and AAA compliance?
We’re here to help. With about a decade’s worth of digital accessibility and advocacy work under our team’s collective belt, let me start with a primer on what you need to know about accessibility.
The good news? In some ways, you’ve got some time if you’re in Ontario. AODA mandates full accessibility by 2025. The bad news? You may have already missed some deadlines. For example, all new content is supposed to be fully accessible going back to Jan. 1, 2014. And there are off-line accessibility requirements (training, documentation), with which you may need to comply.
As it stands, in Ontario – and in most jurisdictions around North America that have similar standards (e.g. ADA, Section 508) – you need to be compliant to WCAG 2.0 AA.
But those standards are, in many ways, already out of date having been published in 2008. Moving at the speed of the Internet, best practices have changed with the arrival of WCAG 2.1 (2018) and the upcoming WCAG 2.2 compliance metrics. It is expected that WCAG 2.2 will be completed and published in early 2023.
Essentially, 2.1 and 2.2 are not new standards, but they are extensions of the success criteria for 2.0. If you’re compliant to 2.1, you’re good to meet all the legal needs of 2.0.
WCAG 2.2 will focus on improving a few key areas of the standards: meeting the needs of users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices.
Some key areas of improvement are as follows:
- Making it easier for people to see where they are on a page
- Making contrast more accessible between focus and non-focused states
- Preventing focus styling from being obscured
- Eliminating mouse-dragging as a way to re-order or move items
- Increasing target sizes to prevent people clicking on the wrong element
- Improving authentication (preventing users from having to remember passwords or solving puzzles to access content)
- Some exceptions for sites that offer two-factor authentication and other password solutions
- Ensuring users can quickly and intuitively access help if needed
- Ensuring users don't have to re-enter information that's previously been entered
Should I Build for 2.2 or 3.0?
We know that people love to future-proof their content as much as possible, so you may be asking why not just build for 3.0?
And it’s a good question. The reality is that much of what you can do to confirm to WCAG 2.0/1/2 actually aligns with 3.0. But, unlike the WCAG 2.0 series, it’s not totally backwards compatible.
WCAG 3.0 is designed to be more flexible and more inclusive of a variety of technologies. Think the whole “internet of things” and that’s where we’re going – it’s not just the web and PDFs, but also apps and other emerging tech that this compliance level will address.
Essentially, 3.0 is focused on broadening the applicability of web standards to more users and more platforms, it’s implementing new approaches to testing, and it’s designed to allow for quicker iterations to help standards keep pace with emerging technologies.
WCAG 3.0 includes two types of tests: atomic tests and holistic tests – and those include not just binary pass/fail evaluations, but also rating scales: Bronze, Silver, Gold. The intent isn’t just to encourage users to meet a standard (like the old 2.0 compliance scale did), but rather establish ratings that encourage developers to continually do better.
So now you have an idea of where we are and where we’re going. Over the next few months, we’ll help you understand what you need to do to successfully “get there.” We’ll share more insights, techniques, and specific actions you can take to evaluate compliance, rectify any issues, and, of course, maintain compliance over the months and years ahead!
If you have any questions you’d like addressed, please contact us.