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10 Years in the Making: WCAG 2.0 to 2.1

By Adrian Redden | Accessibility Test Lead

INSIGHTS // Articles

20 Mar 2018

#Accessibility|#Services|#Strategy

INSIGHTS // Articles

#Accessibility|#Services|#Strategy

By Adrian Redden

20 Mar 2018

There’s an exciting development on the horizon for product owners, managers, designers, developers, content creators, testers and users involved with digital accessibility.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is soon to receive its most significant update in almost a decade, incrementally building upon WCAG 2.0 to version WCAG 2.1 and adding 17 brand new success criteria to test with. This means your apps, websites, platforms and digital products have 17 new conformance requirements to meet to ensure the most inclusive and accessible experience for your users.

Let’s take a look at what’s new in WCAG 2.1, why its release is significant and how you can implement cutting edge accessibility compliance for your products before the official WCAG 2.1 release date in mid-2018.

10 Years in the Making: WCAG 2.0 to 2.1

Why is WCAG 2.1 significant?

WCAG 2.0, established in 2008, has remained the official standard for determining web content accessibility compliance over the last decade. Whilst WCAG 2.0 is designed to be technology-agnostic and still remains so, digital content has evolved significantly over the last ten years to be fit-for-purpose across different devices, screen resolutions, input mechanisms and controls.

WCAG 2.1 was first proposed in July/August 2016 to address gaps in WCAG 2.0 around responsive content, motion controls, cognitive disability requirements and low vision accessibility amongst other digital requirements. Since then, WCAG 2.1 has been iteratively developed through numerous proposals, discussions and draft submissions to determine suitable areas where accessibility testing is applicable for modern digital content.

The WCAG 2.1 timeline outlines each major development milestone to date, including working drafts and significant iterations of the new guidelines.

What’s new in WCAG 2.1?

In addition to the existing WCAG 2.0 success criteria, WCAG 2.1 introduces 17 new Level A, AA and AAA success criteria to determine the accessibility of navigating responsive content, avoiding device orientation restrictions, and using alternatives to motion controls. There’s also accessibility recommendations about activating shortcuts, entering information in forms, preventing timing issues, controlling animation from interactions and more.

Here’s an overview of the 17 new WCAG 2.1 success criteria broken down by Level A, AA and AAA conformance level:

Level A (5 new criteria)
  • 2.4.11 Character Key Shortcuts: keyboard character shortcuts can be turned off, remapped or become active only on focus.
  • 2.4.12 Label in Name: interface components with labels that include text or images of text also contain text presented visually.
  • 2.5.1 Pointer Gestures: multipoint or path-based gestures can also be operated with a single pointer, unless a multipoint or path-based gesture is essential.
  • 2.5.2 Pointer Cancellation: functionality that can be operated using a single pointer has no down-event, can be aborted or undone, provides reversal on up-event or is essential to completing a task.
  • 2.6.1 Motion Actuation: functionality operated by device motion or user motion can also be operated by user interface components. Responding to the motion can be disabled to prevent accidental actuation, except when accessed through an accessibility-supported interface or if the motion is essential.
Level AA (7 new criteria)
  • 1.3.4 Identify Common Purpose: additional support is available for user preferences and needs.
  • 1.4.10 Reflow: 400% browser zoom is possible whilst preserving information and functionality (i.e. responsive design to avoid the user scrolling in multiple directions).
  • 1.4.11 Non-text Contrast: ensure a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 against adjacent colour(s) for user interface components and graphics.
  • 1.4.12 Text Spacing: ensure that people with disabilities who override spacing can read text.
  • 1.4.13 Content on Hover or Focus: enable common user methods for perceiving and interacting with additional content which appears on pointer hover or keyboard focus.
  • 2.6.2 Orientation: content does not restrict its view and operation to a single display orientation (i.e. portrait or landscape), unless a specific display orientation is essential.
  • 3.2.6 Status Changes: in content implemented using markup languages, status messages can be programmatically determined through role or properties, such that they can be presented to the user by assistive technologies without receiving focus.
Level AAA (5 new criteria)
  • 1.3.5 Identify Purpose: support personalisation, user preferences and user needs.
  • 2.2.6 Timeouts: users are warned of the duration of any user inactivity that could cause data loss.
  • 2.2.7 Animation from Interactions: animation triggered by interaction can be turned off, unless the animation is essential to functionality or information being conveyed.
  • 2.5.3 Target Size: pointer input target size is at least 44 x 44 CSS pixels except when equivalent, inline, determined by the user agent or essential to an activity.
  • 2.5.4 Concurrent Input Mechanisms: web content does not restrict platform input, except where the restriction is essential to ensure content security, or required to respect user settings.
What happens next?

As of March 2018, WCAG 2.1 is at Candidate Recommendation stage – essentially a final draft before its official release in June 2018. Accessibility practitioners are invited to start developing and testing with the current iteration of WCAG 2.1 success criteria to provide the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group with examples of compliant content prior to its official launch.

How does this impact my existing WCAG implementation?

WCAG 2.0 Level AA remains the legislative requirement for international government organisations and recommendation for conformance, so if you’re already WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant, there’s no legal obligation to meet WCAG 2.1 (yet). It’s highly recommended get a head start, however, as meeting the new WCAG 2.1 criteria, in addition to WCAG 2.0, ensures you have the most comprehensive level of accessibility compliance as soon as the Final Recommendation of WCAG 2.1 is released in June 2018.

It’s also important to note that you have to meet WCAG 2.0 first in order to claim WCAG 2.1 conformance at Level A, AA or AAA.

What can I do to ensure WCAG 2.1 compliance?

Digital users are encouraged to remind developers, designers and content authors to consider implementing WCAG 2.1 to ensure the digital content experience is as inclusive as possible.

For professionals improving upon an existing organisational strategy, or looking to implement accessible practices in their workflow, you can start making your digital platforms compliant with WCAG 2.1 effective immediately. Professionals have an opportunity to achieve cutting edge accessibility compliance for their apps, websites and platforms ahead of the June 2018 launch using the WCAG 2.1 Candidate Recommendation (i.e. final draft) success criteria right now.

How can Planit help me with accessibility?

Simply visit our Accessibility Testing page and learn how Planit DQA can help you achieve and maintain WCAG 2.0/WCAG 2.1 compliance for your digital products through testing, consultancy and support. We can also provide an accessibility statement highlighting your commitment to WCAG inclusion and conformance.

Also check out our Digital QA page to learn about our range of testing and consultancy options across functionality, compatibility, usability, performance, security and more.

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