On January 21, 2021, the World Wide Web Consortium ("W3C") released the First Public Working Draft of its new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ("WCAG"), which it has named WCAG 3.0. The release of the First Public Working Draft is only the first step in a long process towards finalizing new WCAG compliance criteria. The W3C will accept comments on the First Public Working Draft up until February 26, 2021. It is reported that a final draft will not be completed until 2023.
How does this draft change the current standards of WCAG compliance?
WCAG 2.X Series
The WCAG is a set of recommendations that businesses can use to make their web content accessible for people with disabilities. WCAG 2.0 was published in 2008, with version 2.1 becoming a W3C recommendation in 2018, and a working draft of WCAG 2.2 released in August 2020 (note that a final draft of WCAG 2.2 is likely to be published in the summer of 2021). All versions of WCAG 2.X follow the same A, AA and AAA compliance ratings. It is generally accepted that websites conforming to AA ratings will be deemed WCAG compliant. New versions of the WCAG have cast a wider net, meant to address both a broader range of disabilities and developing technologies. Businesses that are not compliant with the WCAG may find themselves subject to an Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") lawsuit, one of the fastest growing areas of litigation in America.
Changes to WCAG Compliance
The First Public Working Draft of WCAG 3.0 is an ambitious effort to help improve the online experience of people with disabilities. A notable change within WCAG 3.0 is its departure from the A, AA and AAA compliance ratings, and its adoption of bronze, silver and gold conformance levels. Most of the focus in this WCAG 3.0 draft has been on how to conform to the bronze standard. Note that the bronze standard will be similar to the equivalent of level AA WCAG 2.1. Future drafts will provide greater detail on how to achieve the silver and gold standards.
In addition to improving the online experience of those with disabilities, it is also the W3C's mission to make it easier for businesses to interpret WCAG compliance criteria. Current 2.X versions of the WCAG outline "success criteria" that are meant to inform businesses about compliance standards for their websites. WCAG 3.0 moves away from predecessor "success criteria" and will direct businesses through a series of guidelines, outcomes and methods. Guidelines provide plain-language summaries of content requirements that are meant to be more readily understood by laymen. Outcomes are testable criteria, scored from 0 to 4, that create a flexible and expansive model to rank how websites conform to WCAG compliance standards. Critical errors will result in the lowest testable criteria score. WCAG 3.0 methods provide detailed information on how to meet technology specific accessibility guidelines, with code samples that are included in order to help businesses meet WCAG compliance standards.
Achieving WCAG Compliance
It should be years before WCAG 3.0 is in final form. In the meantime, businesses should: 1) continue to adhere to WCAG 2.1 recommendations; and 2) keep an eye out for WCAG 2.2 recommendations that are due to be released this summer. Remember – complying with the WCAG helps prevent ADA lawsuits brought on behalf of disabled consumers.
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Originally Published by Klein Moynihan, February 2021
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