W3C’s accessibility guidance is evolving. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 is now a W3C Recommendation. The designation of “Recommendation” means that the W3C considers the updated guidelines ready for implementation on web content and finalizes the development process. This new iteration includes an expansion of mobile, low vision, and cognitive and learning provisions. It maintains W3C’s accessibility guidance and standards which are implementable, technology neutral, objectively testable, and universally applicable.
Organizations who have made the investment and now conform to WCAG 2.0 should rest assured that it remains a W3C Recommendation. WCAG 2.0 was designed to be a highly stable standard. There is backwards compatibility of WCAG 2.1 with WCAG 2.0.
All the criteria from WCAG 2.0 are included in WCAG 2.1, so web sites that conform to WCAG 2.1 will also conform to WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2.1 will be supported by an extensive library of implementation techniques and educational materials, including Understanding WCAG 2.1 and Techniques for WCAG 2.1.
W3C is now encouraging organizations and individuals to use WCAG 2.1 in web content and applications, and to consider WCAG 2.1 when updating or developing new policies because it provides updated guidance for special-needs users of the web and mobile devices. This includes support for user interactions using touch, handling complex gestures, and for avoiding unintended activation of an interface.
As WCAG 2.1 is expanding and improving, following these guidelines will make content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and learning disabilities and cognitive limitations. Following these guidelines will make websites more usable for all users, which can only be a good thing!
These new recommendations improve and build upon current accessibility standards. Some areas that have been greatly improved include extending contrast requirements to graphics, and introducing new requirements for text and layout customization to support better visual perception of web content and controls for people with low vision.
For users with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities, WCAG 2.1 improvements include a requirement to provide information about the specific purpose of input controls, as well as additional requirements to support timeouts due to inactivity. This can help many users better understand web content and how to successfully interact with it.
While the entirety of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by its very nature is open-ended, this new version brings us closer to the day when accessibility won’t even be a “thing”. We look forward to the time when all access is universal. Full stop.