2021 a busy year for the team at W3C. Not only is the latest iteration of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), v2.2, being released, they have also published the first working draft of the shiny, new WCAG 3.0. Here we explore the new guidelines and share our thoughts on this exciting new development.
So, why the change?
W3C have stated, in their introduction to WCAG 3.0, that the goals of this new set of guidelines include:
- “Making the guidelines easier to understand”
- “Covering more user needs, including more needs of people with cognitive disabilities”
- “Being flexible to address different types of web content, apps, tools, and organizations”
The current structure of WCAG 2.x has been great for getting organisations to think about accessibility and moving more traditional websites down the right path.
However, new and emerging technologies do not fit so neatly into the WCAG boxes (such as apps and online tools), and many of the guidelines cannot be easily applied to these alternative environments.
In addition, WCAG 2.x can disproportionately highlight minor issues that have minimal impact on accessibility over those that can be completely journey stopping for many users with disabilities.
By the looks of things, WCAG 3.0 addresses these issues and gives us a new, easy to understand, flexible model of conformance.
Key differences: WCAG 2.x vs WCAG 3.0
WCAG instead of WCAG
Although the acronym remains the same, in WCAG 3.0 it will no longer stand for ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’. Instead, it will become know as the 'W3C Accessibility Guidelines 3.0'. This is a deliberate move away from the word ‘content’ and highlights the broader nature of these new guidelines.
Outcomes instead of success criteria
In WCAG 2.x, there are currently a series of testable ‘success criteria’. These are true of false statements that are used to assess how well or otherwise a website complies with the guidelines.
In WCAG 3.0, these success criteria will be morphed into ‘outcomes’. These will be statements about what users need from specific types of content, such as images, captions and structural content like headings. Outcomes will focus on processes rather than pages, meaning they consider the whole user journey rather than pages of it in isolation.
Outcomes will also be rated on a scale of 0-4, rather than just being pass or fail. To assess the overall level of compliance of a digital service, the ratings will be averaged across all outcomes.
This approach, will encourage organisations to continue working on accessibility, even once an audit is complete as there will always be room for improvement to reach the perfect score.
Bronze, Silver, Gold instead of A, AA and AAA
In WCAG 3.0 we will also wave goodbye to the current levels of conformance, A, AA and AA, and say hello to a new three tier system: bronze, silver and gold.
It appears bronze is roughly equivalent to the current conformance of Level A & AA, and testing at this level will remain ‘atomic’, i.e. pages will still need to be inspected on an element by element basis.
Silver and Gold look to be more exciting and will make organisations consider a more holistic approach to accessibility, including testing their digital services with users with disabilities.
Web Usability first impressions
Here at Web Usability, we love the look of WCAG 3.0!
It offers a much more flexible and well-rounded approach to accessibility. WCAG 3.0 will be more than the box ticking exercise that many see WCAG 2.x to be. It will encourage organisations to genuinely consider the needs of their users, especially if looking to conform to a level higher than bronze, and we hope to see many more businesses involving people with disabilities in testing their digital services.
The ability to rate outcomes, rather than simply assigning them a pass or fail, is a particularly important update in our opinion. When conducting an accessibility audit, we prioritise issues into critical, high, medium and low based on how often the issues occurs and how much it impacts the user journey. This categorisation helps organisations structure their workplans and tackle the accessibility issues that have the most impact on their users.
WCAG 3.0’s rating system will improve this process further by deprioritising the “minor bugs and oversight by content authors that do not significantly impact the accessible user experience [without invalidating] conformance to WCAG”.
This means we can all focus on the issues that are most important to an accessible user experience and make the online world a genuinely usable place for everyone.
- Website accessibility: Guidance and the Law
- Introducing WCAG 2.2