In the ever-evolving digital landscape, accessibility has become a non-negotiable imperative for all users. The updated and latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.2, released in October 2023, stands as a beacon of inclusivity, providing comprehensive guidelines for making web content accessible to people with disabilities.
Moreover, lawsuits against businesses with non-compliant websites have proliferated. According to ADA attorney Nolan Klein,
thousands of ADA lawsuits have been filed in federal court alleging non-compliance with WCAG standards. Implementation of WCAG 2.2 standards is therefore critical not only for inclusivity but also for proper litigation risk management.
As we explore WCAG 2.2 and its anticipated updates in 2023, this article aims to simplify its complexities, shedding light on the importance of web accessibility for the general public.
What is Web Accessibility?
In today’s interconnected world, the Internet has become indispensable for communication, education, employment, and social engagement. Practically everyone turns to the internet for a solution to all their queries, be they booking tickets, job opportunities, or making purchases.
However, for individuals with disabilities, the web can present a daunting landscape of barriers, hindering their ability to participate in the digital sphere fully.
This is where web accessibility comes into play.
It is the practice of designing and developing websites and web applications so that even people with disabilities can easily and comfortably access and use them.
By removing accessibility barriers and ensuring that web content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, web accessibility promotes inclusivity and empowers individuals with disabilities to navigate the digital world quickly.
The Significance of Web Accessibility
The importance of a strong web accessibility initiative cannot be overstated. It is a fundamental human right enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Moreover, web accessibility makes good business sense. By catering to a broader audience, businesses can expand their customer base, enhance their brand reputation, and gain a competitive edge.
Impact on Diverse User Experiences
Web accessibility considerations extend far beyond the realm of disabilities. They encompass a broad spectrum of user experiences, including those related to age, language barriers, and situational impairments.
Examples of situational impairments include watching videos with only audio in libraries or those with stubby fingers preferring larger call-to-action buttons. By designing websites that are inclusive and accessible to all, we can create a more equitable and user-friendly digital landscape.
W3C Releases: Shaping the Evolution of Accessibility
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) plays a pivotal role in developing and maintaining WCAG, ensuring that the guidelines remain relevant and effective in the face of evolving technologies and user needs.
The WCAG 2.2 was developed through the W3C process with other individuals and worldwide organizations to provide web content accessibility guidelines that meet international governments’, organizations’, and individuals’ accessibility needs.
The W3C recommends using the WCAG 2.2 as a standard for the web.And thus provides the necessary resources and training as guidance and clarity on implementing WCAG.
WCAG 2.2: A New Standard for Web Accessibility
In October 2023, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released WCAG 2.2, the latest iteration of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The WCAG 2.2 is built on WCAG 2.0 and 2.1, the previous versions were built on WCAG 1.0, designed to apply different present and future technologies and tested through manual and automated testing.
The update incorporates new WCAG success criteria and techniques, addressing the evolving needs of users with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities and reflecting advancements in web technologies.
WCAG 2.2 and Its Relevance
The release of WCAG 2.2 marks a significant step forward in pursuing web accessibility. By adopting these guidelines, web developers, content creators, and organizations ensure their digital products and services are accessible to a wider audience, fostering a more inclusive and equitable online experience.
Multiple Layers of Guidance
The various individuals and organizations using WCAG include policymakers, web designers, teachers, and students. Thus, multiple layers of guidance meet this varied audience’s comprehensive needs.
These layers include:
The foundation of WCAG 2.2 rests upon four fundamental principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. These principles, each encompassing specific guidelines and measurable success criteria, form the cornerstone of accessible web content.
- Perceivable: Content must be presented so that users with visual, auditory, or other sensory impairments can perceive it.
- Operable: Users with diverse abilities, including motor and speech impairments, must be able to operate a user interface component and navigate content effectively.
- Understandable: Content must be presented in a clear and unambiguous manner so that users with cognitive, learning, or language disabilities can comprehend it easily.
- Robust: Content must remain accessible across all various assistive technology and user environments.
These come next and are the 13 guidelines providing the goals authors adhere to for making content more accessible to users with different disabilities. While they aren’t testable, they provide the basic framework for authors to understand success criteria and, thus, better implement techniques.
Testable Success Criteria
Each guideline has testable success criteria to ensure WCAG 2.2 is used wherever requirements and performance testing are required. This includes design specifications, contractual agreements, and purchasing.
WCAG 2.2 defines three levels of conformance level: A, AA, and AAA, each representing a progressive level of accessibility in different groups and situations.
- Level A: The minimum level of accessibility, ensuring basic functionality for all users.
- Level AA: A higher level of conformance, addressing the needs of many disabled users. It is considered the recommended level for most websites.
- Level AAA: The most stringent level, catering to a wider range of disabilities and user preferences. It is often considered an aspirational goal for websites.
Sufficient and Advisory Techniques
Various techniques are used for each guideline and success criterion in WCAG 2.2, divided into two categories.
Sufficient techniques for meeting success criteria and advisory techniques that let authors go beyond the individual success criteria to address guidelines better. They may address accessibility problems or barriers the testable success criteria do not cover.
These layers of guidance together guide web developers to make content more accessible by applying as many layers as possible. This includes including advisory techniques so that the content addresses the needs of most users.
WCAG 2.2: A Watershed Moment in Digital Accessibility
WCAG 2.2 addresses the ever-changing technological landscape and evolving user needs, thus emerging as a pivotal step forward from its predecessor, WCAG 2.1.
This enhanced iteration introduces nine tool accessibility guidelines and new success criteria meticulously crafted to enhance accessibility for users with visual, physical, and cognitive disabilities.
These additional success criteria encourage:
1. Improved Focus Management
WCAG 2.2 introduces three enhanced focus management success criteria catering to users with motor impairments. These success criteria enable users to navigate web content smoothly and efficiently.
These success criteria are:
- 2.4.11 Focus Not Obscured (Minimum) (AA)
- According to this success criterion, there might be some degree of hiding or obscuring keyboard-focused user interface components like buttons or links in a website or app design.
- 2.4.12 Focus Not Obscured (Enhanced) (AAA)
- According to this success criterion, content web developers create, like website and app design, cannot hide any part of keyword-focused user interface components.
- 2.4.13 Focus Appearance (AAA)
- According to this success criterion, visible keyboard focus indicator parts must be a minimum of a 2 CSS pixel thick perimeter of unfocused components or sub-components. They should also have a minimal 3:1 ratio between pixels in focused and unfocused states.
2. Enhanced Touch Input Support
Recognizing the growing prevalence of touch-enabled devices, WCAG 2.2 introduces refined guidelines for touch input and page break navigation. This ensures seamless interaction for users with limited or no mouse interaction.
These success criteria are:
- 2.5.7 Dragging Movements (AA)
According to this success criterion, a single pointer can perform dragging movements without dragging. Exceptions are when dragging is crucial to the functionality or the user agent dictates the functionality and remains unaltered by the author.
- 2.5.8 Target Size (Minimum) (AA)
According to this success criterion, the minimum size for pointer input targets is 24 by 24 CSS pixels, with exceptions in:
- Spacing: Targets smaller than 24 by 24 CSS pixels can be positioned so that, if a 24 CSS pixel diameter circle is centered on each target’s bounding box, the circles do not intersect with other targets.
- Equivalent: The same function can be accomplished through a different control on the same page, meeting the 24 by 24 CSS pixel criterion.
- Inline: The target is within a sentence, or its size is constrained by the line height of non-target text.
- User-agent control: The user agent determines the target size and remains unaltered by the author.
- Essential: A specific presentation of the target is deemed essential or is legally required for conveying the information.
- 2.5.7 Dragging Movements (AA)
3. Clearer Color Contrast Guidance
WCAG 2.2 provides clearer and more stringent guidelines for color contrast to address the needs of low-vision users. It thus ensures text is easily distinguishable from its background.
These success criteria are:
3.2.6 Consistent Help (A)
According to this success criterion, if web pages include certain help mechanisms like human contact details, human contact mechanisms, self-help options, and fully automated contact mechanisms, they should maintain a consistent order across multiple pages unless a user-initiated change occurs.
3.3.7 Redundant Entry (A)
According to this success criterion, user-provided information that must be repeatedly entered in the same process is auto-populated or made available for the user to select.
Exceptions are when:
- Re-entering the information is deemed essential
- The information is necessary for ensuring content security
- The previously entered information is no longer valid
3.3.8 Accessible Authentication (Minimum) (AA)
According to this success criterion, an authentication process does not mandate cognitive function tests like remembering a password or solving a puzzle. Exceptions are when the step offers at least one of the following:
- Alternative: Another authentication method that doesn’t involve a cognitive function test.
- Mechanism: A mechanism aids the user in completing the cognitive function test.
- Object Recognition: The cognitive function test involves recognizing objects.
- Personal Content: The cognitive function test identifies non-text content the user provides to the website.
3.3.9 Accessible Authentication (Enhanced) (AAA)
According to this success criterion, cognitive function tests, like recalling a password or solving a puzzle, are not obligatory at any stage in an authentication process unless the step offers either:
- Alternative: An alternative authentication method not dependent on a cognitive function test.
- Mechanism: A mechanism is accessible to aid the user in completing the cognitive function test.
The new success criteria may reference new terms that have also been added to the glossary and form part of the normative requirements of the success criteria.
WCAG 2.2 also introduces new sections detailing aspects of specifications impacting privacy and security.
Was Any Success Criterion Removed from WCAG 2.2?
Yes, the success criterion 4.1.1 Parsing was removed from WCAG 2.2. It was removed as it was considered obsolete due to the advancements in web technology.
Besides, new success criteria in WCAG 2.2 provide a more robust and up-to-date approach to ensuring accessible web content to disabled users.
Here is why 4.1.1 Parsing was removed from WCAG 2.2:
- It was primarily focused on older technologies, such as HTML 4.0 and earlier versions of XHTML, which are no longer widely used.
- It was not well-defined and could be interpreted differently, leading to inconsistencies in implementation.
- It was not as effective as other success criteria in ensuring that web content is parsable by user agents.
Removing 4.1.1 Parsing from WCAG 2.2 does not mean the parsing issue is no longer important. However, the new success criteria in WCAG 2.2 provide a more comprehensive and effective way to address this issue.
WCAG 2.1 vs. WCAG 2.2- The Differences
The latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG 2,2, builds upon its predecessor, WCAG 2.1, to further enhance web accessibility for people with disabilities.
While WCAG 2.1 laid a solid foundation for accessible web development, WCAG 2.2 introduces new success criteria, refines existing guidelines, and provides clearer instructions to make accessibility more achievable and maintainable.
There are thus these five major differences between the two:
1. New Success Criteria in WCAG 2.2
WCAG 2.2 introduces nine additional success criteria, addressing areas such as:
- Focus appearance: Ensuring that focus indicators are sufficiently visible and distinguishable to aid navigation for users with low vision or cognitive disabilities.
- Page break navigation: Providing clear and consistent mechanisms for navigating between page breaks, particularly for users who rely on screen readers or keyboard navigation.
- Dragging movements: Making drag-and-drop interactions accessible to users with motor disabilities by providing adequate target sizes and clear visual feedback.
- Consistent help: Providing consistent and easily accessible help or support mechanisms throughout the website or application.
- Visible controls: Ensuring that all controls, including form fields and buttons, are clearly visible and distinguishable even to low-vision users.
These new success criteria reflect the evolving technological landscape and a deeper understanding of user needs, particularly those with cognitive disabilities.
2. Enhanced Mobile Accessibility
WCAG 2.2 continues to refine mobile accessibility guidelines, recognizing the growing prevalence of mobile devices and the need for websites and applications to be accessible across all platforms.
This includes improvements in:
- Touch target sizes: Ensuring touch targets are large enough and spaced appropriately to accommodate ease of use to users with motor disabilities or limited dexterity.
- Input modalities: Providing alternative input modalities, such as voice control or keyboard navigation, to cater to users with different physical abilities.
- Context-aware activation: Preventing unintentional activation of elements, such as pop-ups or overlays, that could hinder navigation for users with cognitive disabilities.
3. Improved Usability and Clarity
WCAG 2.2 aims to make the guidelines more user-friendly and actionable for developers and content creators through:
- More explicit guidelines: Provide clearer and more explicit instructions for each success criterion to reduce the need for interpretation and ensure consistent implementation.
- Additional examples: Offer more comprehensive and illustrative examples to demonstrate how to meet each success criterion in real-world scenarios.
- Improved organization: Structuring the guidelines more logically and intuitively makes it easier for developers to find the information they need.
4. Backward Compatibility and Continuous Evolution
WCAG 2.2 maintains backward compatibility with WCAG 2.1, meaning that websites and applications conforming to WCAG 2.2 also adhere to WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards. This ensures that accessibility efforts are not lost with each new guidelines version.
As technology and user needs evolve, WCAG will adapt and refine its guidelines to ensure that the web remains an inclusive and accessible space for all.
5. Removal of One Success Criterion
The success criterion 4.1.1 Parsing was removed from WCAG 2.2 as it was considered obsolete compared to web technology advancements. Besides, new additional success criteria in WCAG 2.2 ensure web content is accessible to users with disabilities.
Impact on User Experience
As always, the WCAG 2.2 offers an improved user experience, rendering digital content more user-friendly and inclusive for everyone, including users with disabilities.
By adhering to the latest WCAG 2.2 guidelines, websites, and digital platforms become more accessible to all their users and visitors, regardless of their abilities.
It doesn’t matter what disability the user may have or where they are, they can easily navigate, comprehend, and interact with the digital content. This is thus a win-win situation for both users and web developers.
For example, visually impaired users easily navigate websites with images with alt text. In addition to improved accessibility, the alt text helps with SEO, thus improving the digital platform’s SEO rankings.
Similarly, users with physical impairments and, in general, all users can easily navigate websites that are keyboard-navigable.
WCAG and Its Benefits for Businesses:
Embracing web accessibility guidelines should never be considered a waste of time or investment. It’s because web accessibility perfectly aligns with any and every business’s interests.
It offers benefits like:
Broader Customer Base
Not only does WCAG 2.2 ensure everyone has equal access to the web, but the additional success criteria in WCAG 2.2 address additional disabilities to foster a broader customer base.
People with disabilities form a major part of any website visitors. They will not be able to use or visit inaccessible websites. This, in turn, prevents them from accessing important information or performing important tasks like applying for jobs, booking tickets, or making purchases.
Adhering to WCAG 2.2 guidelines helps businesses and organizations comply with legal standards like accessibility laws and regulations protecting the rights of users with disabilities.
Examples include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the European Web Directive.
With businesses adhering to the latest WCAG 2.2, there are reduced chances of users filing cases for inaccessibility. Businesses thus save money by avoiding lawsuits.
Besides, by ensuring equal access to users with disabilities, organizations and businesses contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable digital environment for all.
Common Challenges in WCAG 2.2 Implementation and Useful Solutions:
Implementing WCAG 2.2 can be complex and challenging for businesses and organizations, as incorporating them into web development and maintenance processes can pose significant hurdles.
5 Common Challenges Businesses Face
The five common challenges faced by most businesses and web developers while implementing WCAG 2.2 include:
- Lack of Awareness and Understanding: Many businesses and organizations lack a comprehensive understanding of WCAG 2.2 and its implications for their websites and applications. This lack of knowledge can lead to unintentional non-compliance and potential legal issues.
- Resource Constraints: Implementing WCAG 2.2 often requires significant financial and human resources. Businesses may need to allocate additional funds for accessibility testing, training, and software tools while dedicating staff time to address accessibility issues.
- Legacy Technology and Codebases: Websites and applications built on older technologies or with complex codebases may be more challenging to adapt to WCAG 2.2 standards. This can require extensive, time-consuming, and costly refactoring and code remediation.
- Content Management Systems (CMS) and Third-party Tools: Integrating WCAG 2.2 compliance into CMS and third-party tools can be tricky, especially in tools lacking built-in accessibility features.
- Ongoing Maintenance and Testing: WCAG 2.2 compliance is not a one-time project. It requires ongoing maintenance and testing to ensure new content and updates adhere to the guidelines. This can add to the ongoing costs and resource demands for maintaining an accessible website.
Practical Solutions to Overcome Challenges
The good news is that there are practical solutions that web developers can easily use to overcome these challenges. They include:
- Educating and Training Staff: Regular training sessions for web developers, designers, and content creators raise awareness of WCAG 2.2 guidelines and best practices.
This helps ensure that accessibility considerations are integrated into all web development and maintenance aspects.
- Prioritize Accessibility from the Start: Incorporating accessibility considerations into web development projects’ planning and design phases helps.
This proactive approach can help identify and address potential accessibility issues early on, thus preventing costly retrofits later.
- Utilize Accessibility Testing Tools: Employing automated accessibility testing tools to identify and troubleshoot accessibility issues throughout the development process also helps.
These tools can provide valuable insights and help streamline the remediation process.
- Choose Accessible CMS and Third-party Tools: When selecting CMS and third-party tools, prioritize those that offer built-in accessibility features and support WCAG 2.2 compliance.
This can save time and effort in the long run. Businesses may need to customize these tools or find alternative solutions that meet accessibility requirements.
- Establish an Accessibility Workflow: Implementing a clear accessibility workflow that outlines roles, responsibilities, and procedures for ensuring and maintaining WCAG 2.2 compliance helps.
This will help keep accessibility at the forefront of web development and maintenance.
Clearing Common WCAG 2.2 Implementation Misconceptions
A few common misconceptions about implementing WCAG 2.2 discourage web developers from implementing them. Here are 5 common misconceptions dispelled:
- Accessibility is Expensive:True
Yes, implementing WCAG 2.2 can involve upfront costs. However, the long-term benefits of an accessible website outweigh these expenses. An accessible website can increase user engagement, improve brand reputation, and reduce the risk of legal issues.
- Accessibility is Only for People with Disabilities:False
Accessibility benefits everyone, not just those with disabilities. An accessible website is more user-friendly and usable for all, regardless of their abilities or limitations.
- Accessibility is Too Technical:True
While some technical expertise is required to implement WCAG 2.2, accessibility is not solely a technical issue. It requires collaboration between designers, developers, content creators, and stakeholders to ensure a truly accessible user experience.
- Accessibility Can Wait:False
Accessibility should not be an afterthought for website owners. It is essential to integrate accessibility considerations into all web development and maintenance phases. Addressing accessibility early on can save time and resources in the long run.
- Accessibility is Binary:False
Accessibility is not a pass-fail situation but a spectrum of conformance levels. Businesses should strive to achieve the highest level of accessibility possible, as even incremental improvements can make a significant difference for users with disabilities.
WCAG 2.2 marks a significant milestone in pursuing digital accessibility by addressing more accessibility needs. It builds on WCAG 2.1 by adding new guidelines and success criteria and clarifying and updating existing ones.
It makes the web more accessible and offers a roadmap for creating inclusive and user-friendly websites for individuals with diverse abilities. By adhering to these guidelines, web developers, content creators, and organizations play a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide, thus ensuring everyone has equal access to digital content across the internet.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.