Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

What is the WCAG?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are one of the most influential protocols influencing web accessibility policies. The WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to provide guidance for creating accessible web pages so that people who cannot see, hear, read, or otherwise interact with them can nevertheless access and understand the information they offer.

Why should I care if my site complies with WWCAG

To truly understand what the WCAG means, one must understand who is behind it. The WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, also known as the W3C. Founded in October 1994 in the hallways of MIT’s laboratory for computer science, the W3C is an international community of web designers, developers, accessibility experts, and researchers dedicated to improving the quality of the world wide web. By late 2019, the organization had over 440 member companies including leaders from businesses, nonprofits, universities, governments, and relevant industries.

The development of online accessibility guidelines was one of the earliest concerns to be addressed by W 3 C cofounders in the mid-1990s. It would not be until several years later that a coherent group of guidelines would be developed. In 1998, a twenty-five-point guide on best website accessibility practices was proposed by the Trace Research & Development Center at the University of Wisconsin, a partner of the W3C, serving as the basis for the initial version of WCAG. Almost ten years later, at the end of 2008, the WCAG 2. 0 was launched. Today, the updated revision WCAG 2. 1 is the W3C’s guideline on website accessibility and the one we adhere to today.

W3C was founded to help ensure that websites were compatible with each other. Each W3C standard has been through multiple reviews, tests, and analyses before approval. Usually, W3Cs have three different compliance ratings, from A to AAA; usually, AA means that the standard meets most requirements but not all.

The four principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG

The full W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is incredibly long and complex. However, its principles are easy to grasp. The first thing to know is that it is not a checklist; rather, it is a set of guidelines designed to help web developers create accessible websites.

Perceived – this refers to the way that people experience content online through their sense of vision, hearing, and touch. It involves issues like captioning videos and adjusting the contrast, colors, fonts, sizes, and spacing so they’re easy to see and use.

Operable – operability refers to the different methods that someone can access the site using. For example, if someone has trouble moving their arms, they may not be able to navigate the site without some kind of assistive technology.

Understandable – understanding websites are easy for everyone to read. They don’t include a lot of technical terms, don’t include confusing instructions that are hard to understand, and have clear instructions that won’t confuse readers.

Robust – There are two factors for a “robust” site:

  • Clean HTML and CSS code so it conforms to recognized standards
  • Being accessible to people who use assistive technologies

WCAG Conformance Levels

There are three main conformance levels for web accessibility standards: Level A (the most basic), Level AA (more advanced), and Level AAA (most advanced). Each category is based on the website’s overall structure, including the content, layout, navigation, images, videos, etc., and their impact on people who may be using assistive technology.

Level A: This is the easiest level to achieve, but it doesn’t accommodate a wide variety of physical limitations.

Level AA: This mid-range level is currently the standard for websites and digital content. It has been established by legislation and judicial decisions.

Level AAA: Achieving AAA compliance means meeting all three levels’ success criteria as determined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

What does it mean for a site to be WCAG compliant?

To make a website fully compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA, all digital assets must be remediated. Remediation removes any obstacles that prevent access by individuals with disabilities. Some examples of remediated assets or file types may be:

Captioning should be added to prerecorded or live video streams that contain sound so people who are deaf or hard of hearing can enjoy them.

For accessibility reasons, descriptive alternative text (alternative-text) needs to be added to non-informational images for both context and structure/navigational reasons so screen readers can read out what’s onscreen to blind people.

Forms or fields must be accessible by people with visual impairments.

A PDF document must include tagged digital elements on each page so screen readers and similar technologies can access them correctly.

Links need to be displayed clearly so they’re easy to see, comply with color contrast guidelines or rules, and be both compliant with accessibility standards and easily accessible via keyboards.

How can you tell whether a website is WCAG compliant?

Accessibility Scanners like accessScan can check your website against the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) Level AA requirements. It gives you a detailed overview of the issues your website has to address in order to comply with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines.

How does WCAG impact accessibility laws?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) aren’t a list of rules that can be enforced, they’re just a guide for making websites accessible. But there are lots of countries where the government has made them the law. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common ones.

WCAG-related rules in the United States

On January 1st, 2018, the new version of Section 508 was implemented. It required websites operated by federal agencies and organizations receiving federal funds to meet certain accessibility standards (WCAG 2.0 Level AA). These standards were revised from the previous version of Section 508 which had been in place since 1990.

People who live in the United States can sue businesses if they believe that the business doesn’t meet accessibility standards set forth by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). In order to avoid lawsuits, businesses must follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These guidelines explain how people with disabilities should interact with websites. They also provide guidance about what types of information and features are appropriate for people with disabilities.

The Unruh Civil Rights Law was originally passed in 1959 to prevent discrimination against disabled individuals. In 1992, the law was amended to include online services such as Facebook and Twitter. The Unruh Civil Right Law prohibits any type of discrimination based on disability or handicap. Anyone who engages in discriminatory practices can be fined $1000 per violation.

Under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, if a company is accused of violating the law, the state will require them to comply with WCAG 2.1 level AA compliance.

House Bill 21-1110 requires that the most current and up-to- date Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 be followed when creating digital assets, websites, and virtual contents.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) related regulations in the European Union

By adopting WCAG 2.0 Level AA in 2010, the European Union (EU) set a precedent for making accessibility standards mandatory across its entire online presence. It did so again by expanding WCAG 2.1 to cover all public sector websites in 2016. And now, it has done so once again by adopting WCAG 2.0 as the standard for the upcoming European Accessibility Act, which will be implemented in 2025.

WCAG-related regulations in Canada

On June 19th, 2019, the Accessible Cana­dia Act (ACA) became law in Canada. The ACA mandates that a large number of public sites and private companies must be made accessible to people who use assistive technology devices.

Several provinces have also adopted accessibility laws, including the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act of 2005 (AODA), the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (2013) (AMAA), and the Nova ScotiaAccessibility Act (2017). These laws all use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) as their standard for accessibility.

WCAG-related regulations in Australia

The Australian Disability Discrimination act was established in 1992 to ensure that people with disabilities had equal access to public spaces. Over time, the government has interpreted the act to include online service providers. Official recommendations strongly urge all business and service providers to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

By 2010, Australia’s Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy had mandated that all Australian government agencies must comply with WCAG 2.0 level AA.

WCAG-related regulations in Israel

Israel’s new Accessible Web Content Act (AWCA), which went into force in October 2017, requires most websites to be accessible according to the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibili­ty Guidelines (WCAG).

Ignoring the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) puts you at risk of legal action, as they form the basis for most accessible web content legislation worldwide. However, if you follow them, you won’t go wrong.

In Summary

Despite the lack of legal enforcement, WCAG has become the most important set of web accessibility guidelines and is widely recognized as such.

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), major nations that comply with WCAG guidelines with their own legislation have shown that they take accessibility and inclusion into account when making decisions. It is therefore essential to keep WCAG-compliant sites and resources accessible to everyone. However, it is equally important to understand what accessible web design truly means.

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