There’s been a buzz about the new WCAG 2.2 update for over a year now. After a series of delays, WCAG 2.2 has reached the “Proposed Recommendation” stage. In this edition of Accessiblü Insights, we explain what that means and what you need to know about this new version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
TLDR: You should start learning about and using WCAG 2.2 now!
For Those Who Are Still Not Familiar with WCAG
From the late 1990s till today, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been working diligently to ensure the Internet is a space accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities. A significant part of this mission is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of recommendations that serve as the gold standard for web accessibility.
WCAG guidelines are designed to provide a clear framework for making digital content more accessible and are updated every few years to accommodate the latest technological advancements and user needs.
Understanding and implementing WCAG is not just a matter of legal compliance or ticking off a box in your digital strategy. It’s about creating an inclusive web that offers equal access and opportunity to all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
A Quick Recap: Tracing the Evolution of WCAG
Before we dive into the new updates, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to understand how we got here.
WCAG 1.0: Laying the Foundation
The first version of WCAG, 1.0, saw the light of day in 1999. This was a time when we were just beginning to grasp the future potential of the internet. The guidelines detailed 14 critical points to ensure web content was accessible to people with varying ability levels.
WCAG 2.0: Streamlining the Guidelines
Fast forward to 2008, and we saw the release of WCAG 2.0. This version introduced a more streamlined format, focusing on four core principles of accessibility:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in ways that users can perceive.
- Operable: Users must be able to operate interface components and navigation.
- Understandable: Information and operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by various user agents, including assistive technologies.
These principles form the backbone of WCAG and continue to guide all subsequent updates. WCAG 2.0 is also the basis of what Section 508 and most other international standards are based upon.
WCAG 2.1: Adapting to a Rapidly Evolving Tech Landscape
In 2018, we witnessed the arrival of WCAG 2.1. Rather than a complete overhaul, this update served as an addendum to WCAG 2.0. It introduced additional success criteria to address user needs related to mobile devices, low vision, and cognitive impairments.
Importance of WCAG for Accessibility
It’s 2023, and Accessibility is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ feature; it’s a necessity. In today’s hyper-connected world, the internet has become an indispensable tool for education, employment, commerce, healthcare, social interaction, and more.
If your website or digital platform is not accessible, you’re potentially excluding millions of users. Accessibility is not just about avoiding a lawsuit; it’s about ensuring everyone can use your app and navigate your website! Who doesn’t want that?
This is where WCAG comes in. The guidelines provide practical recommendations on how to make web (and digital) content more accessible to people with various abilities. However, the benefits of WCAG extend beyond this. By following WCAG, you’re enhancing the overall user experience, improving your website’s SEO, and opening your digital platform to a wider audience.
Yes, compliance with WCAG can help protect your organization from legal repercussions. With accessibility laws and policies becoming increasingly stringent, adherence to WCAG is often considered proof of compliance with these laws.
WCAG 2.2: The Latest Milestone in Accessibility
Now that we’ve navigated the chronicles of WCAG, let’s delve into the heart of the matter: WCAG 2.2. This update is currently a proposed recommendation, with the W3C expecting to release the final version by the end of 2023.
What does a “Proposed Recommendation” mean?
It’s like a performer who’s done their vocal warm-ups, stretched their muscles, and applied their stage makeup – just waiting for the emcee to announce their name and kick off the show!
Being a proposed recommendation is the final step before being made the official W3C recommendation for web standards. The W3C hopes to publish the official recommendation by September 2023, although it may take until December 2023.
What is WCAG 2.2?
Informed by the lessons learned from previous iterations, WCAG 2.2 seeks to further refine the guidelines. The goal remains the same: to make web content accessible to everyone. However, WCAG 2.2 is set to introduce nine new success criteria.
One previously existing criterion, 4.1.1 Parsing, will be deemed obsolete and removed from the guidelines.
The Reason WCAG 2.2 has been delayed.
Why has there been a delay in making WCAG 2.2 the “official” recommendation?
The release of new WCAG versions is a meticulous process that involves extensive research, public feedback, and rigorous testing. The W3C takes this process seriously to ensure the guidelines are as comprehensive and effective as possible.
One reason for the delay was the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected work schedules and priorities worldwide.
Currently, the W3C is reviewing recommendations submitted since July. Per the latest status update given to Accessiblü, most of the final updates are related to how removing the success criteria 4.1.1 (Parsing) affects WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 and clarifying informative notes.
The W3C is not planning on changing any new WCAG 2.2 success criteria before its release!
The Nuts and Bolts of What’s New in WCAG 2.2
Let’s dive into the specifics of the proposed updates in WCAG 2.2.
Guideline 2.4 Navigable
There are three new criteria are being added to guideline 2.4, Navigable:
- 2.4.11 Focus Not Obscured (Minimum) (AA)
- 2.4.12 Focus Not Obscured (Enhanced) (AAA)
- 2.4.13 Focus Appearance (AAA)
Focus Not Obscured: Ensuring Discernibility
Under criteria 2.4.11 and 2.4.12, WCAG 2.2 proposes that elements should not be obscured by author-created content when they receive focus.
This benefits all keyboard users, particularly those with cognitive or memory impairments, by ensuring that it’s easy to identify what has keyboard focus.
Focus Appearance: Enhancing Visibility
In an update that benefits all keyboard users, particularly those with cognitive or memory impairments, WCAG 2.2 introduces criterion 2.4.13, which concerns the visibility of author-created focus indicators.
This criterion complements existing standards by requiring not just visibility but a minimum level of visibility. This ensures users can easily identify where the focus position is, enhancing the overall user experience.
Guideline 2.5 Input Modalities
Two new criteria are being added to guideline 2.5, Input Modalities:
- 2.5.7 Dragging Movements (AA)
- 2.5.8 Target Size (Minimum) (AA)
Dragging Movements: Increasing Usability
Criterion 2.5.7 addresses interfaces that use pointer dragging movements, such as drag and drop, drag sorting, custom sliders, and carousels. It requires that a single pointer can also operate any interface with this functionality without dragging movements.
This is particularly beneficial for users who have issues with fine motor control or use assistive technology.
Target Size (Minimum): Enhancing Accessibility
Under criterion 2.5.8, WCAG 2.2 proposes that the part of a web page that receives targeted action should be a minimum size of 24-by-24 CSS pixels.
This benefits users with imprecise or unsteady pointer mobility, making it easier for them to interact with web content.
Guideline 3.2 Predictable
One new criterion has been added to guideline 3.2, Predictable:
- 3.2.6 Consistent Help (A)
Consistent Help: Streamlining User Experience
Criterion 3.2.6 concerns the consistent placement of information that provides general help to users.
This benefits all users, particularly those with cognitive or memory impairments, by ensuring that help mechanisms are easy to locate.
Guideline 3.3 Input Assistance
Three new criteria have been added to guideline 3.3, Input Assistance:
- 3.3.7 Redundant Entry (A)
- 3.3.8 Accessible Authentication (Minimum) (AA)
- 3.3.9 Accessible Authentication (Enhanced) (AAA)
Redundant Entry: Reducing Cognitive Load
Criterion 3.3.7 is about preventing users from having to re-enter information they’ve already entered before (within the same process) to reduce cognitive load.
This benefits users with cognitive or memory impairments and those with mobility impairments who rely on voice recognition or switch controls.
Accessible Authentication: Simplifying Authentication
Under criteria 3.3.8 and 3.3.9, WCAG 2.2 proposes changes to cognitive function tests to authenticate users, such as solving a puzzle, picking out specific image types, or remembering a password.
This criterion benefits users with cognitive issues related to memory, reading, numeracy, or perceptual processing.
Notable Differences Between WCAG 2.1 and 2.2
While WCAG 2.2 builds upon the foundation laid by WCAG 2.1, there are notable differences between the two versions. The new success criteria in WCAG 2.2 are more targeted and specific, addressing areas that were not adequately covered in WCAG 2.1.
For instance, WCAG 2.2 requires a more visible focus indicator, which was not explicitly required in 2.1. Similarly, the new guidelines for accessible authentication and content visibility during hover and focus are unique to WCAG 2.2.
Do You Have to Wait for WCAG 2.2 to Audit Your Website?
With the release of WCAG 2.2 on the horizon, you might wonder if you should wait for its official release to audit your website. The answer is no. You can and should start checking your website for accessibility now, using the new WCAG 2.2 guidelines as a benchmark.
By auditing your website now, you can identify and rectify any existing accessibility issues. This will put you in a better position when WCAG 2.2 is officially released, as your website will already comply with the new standards.
How to Audit Your Website for WCAG 2.2 Compliance
Auditing your website for WCAG 2.2 compliance involves checking your website against the WCAG 2.2 success criteria. This can be done using various tools and techniques, including automated testing tools, manual testing, and user testing with people with disabilities.
Shameless plug: Accessiblü’s Managed Accessibility Ops can get you started on becoming WCAG 2.2 compliant for as little as $2,500.
If you decide to go the audit route, you’ll want to create an accessibility plan to address any identified issues. This plan should outline the steps you’ll take to improve your website’s accessibility, the timeline for these improvements, and how you’ll monitor and maintain accessibility in the future.
If you’re unsure if it is better to invest in an audit versus an accessibility ops approach, our article on demystifying the cost of an audit may help.
Practical Tips for Implementing WCAG 2.2
Implementing any accessibility changes can seem daunting, but with the right approach, it can be a manageable task. Start by familiarizing yourself with the guidelines and understanding what each success criterion means. Use the resources provided by the W3C, including the WCAG 2.2 Quick Reference Guide.
Next, conduct an accessibility audit to identify areas of improvement. Prioritize these based on their impact on accessibility and make the necessary changes. Remember, improving accessibility is an ongoing process, not a one-time task.
Resources for Mastering WCAG 2.2
There are numerous resources available to help you master WCAG 2.2. The W3C’s WCAG 2.2 website is a great starting point, providing comprehensive information on the guidelines, including explanations of each success criterion and techniques for meeting them.
Other useful resources include the WCAG 2.2 Quick Reference Guide. This site is a quick reference for how to understand and check each criterion.
Accessiblü’s Digital Accessibility Checklist is another resource for helping to assess your website for accessibility.
Conclusion: The Future of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
To wrap up, the future of web content accessibility is promising. With each new version of WCAG, the web is becoming more inclusive and accessible.
WCAG version 3.0 is also in the works! You can follow this link to read about the WCAG 3.0 Exploratory Draft. We expect that to become official in the next five years.
As digital professionals, it’s our responsibility to stay updated with these guidelines, implement them diligently, and contribute to creating a web that’s accessible to all.
So, don’t wait! Start exploring the new in WCAG 2.2 today and prepare your website for the future of accessibility. And remember, if you need any help or further insights, don’t hesitate to follow Accessiblü on LinkedIn and our blogs for more updates. Together, let’s make the web more accessible for everyone.