Since the beginning of the 21st century (1999 to be exact), WCAG has been setting accessibility standards for the world wide web. There have been only a handful of major updates, with the most recent being number 2.1, which went into effect in 2018. Web technology is constantly evolving, which means that accessibility standards need to evolve along with it, in tandem.
WCAG is the brainchild of the World Wide Web Consortium (also referred to as W3C). W3C is an international non-profit organization tasked with setting accessibility (and other standards) for the general web.
Below we dive into what’s included in the newest WCAG update, provide an overview of WCAG 2.1 guidelines, and also include a basic WCAG 2.1 checklist.
What is WCAG 2.1?
WCAG 2.1 is the latest update to W3C’s accessibility standards protocol (otherwise known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines i.e. WCAG). WCAG is specifically produced by a group within W3C that’s known as the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative). While WCAG 2.1 adds extra standards to WCAG 2.0, it doesn’t completely replace it (it’s merely the newest update to the protocol).
The main disability types that are covered under WCAG 2.1 include cognitive & learning disabilities, low vision, speech input, vestibular, motor & dexterity issues, and blindness. There are also several new criterias of success for each of the aforementioned disability types. You can learn more about the new success and by going to this page.
WCAG 2.1 Guidelines & Checklist
The main goal of the newest implementation of WCAG (WCAG 2.1), is to provide further accessibility for people with learning/cognitive disabilities, people who suffer from blindness/poor vision, and disabled people who primarily use mobile devices (i.e. smartphones).
If you’re worried about negatively affecting the UX of non-disabled website users, don’t be. Accessibility standards, if they’re properly implemented, do not have any negative effects on non-disabled users. Exclusionary content production isn’t ideal for anyone. In fact, the evidence shows that oftentimes non-disabled users experience higher quality UX when sites are up-to-date with WCAG standards.
Vision Difficulty & Blindness
One of the main updates in WCAG 2.1 is the focus on people who suffer from vision problems. The below methods can be used to ensure that people who suffer from these types of vision problems can easily access your web content:
- Enhance font sizes across all content types for optimal viewing
- Enhance contrasts between different colors
- Optimize content for people using screen reading technology
WCAG 2.1 recommends that all users should have no problem reading font. So, the font size shouldn’t be too small (especially when the font is relevant to disabled users).
Content responsiveness is another focus of WCAG 2.1. Content should evenly flow through all devices, without the requirement to be specifically resized, zoomed in on, etc (because these user actions can be problematic for users with disabilities).
Color contrast is another issue that was addressed by the recent WCAG update. Ideally, your website shouldn’t have low contrasting colors, because these color combinations can be very difficult for people who have a poor quality vision to properly view. Use higher contrasting colors to ensure accessibility across all user types.
Enhance Content for Screen Reading Technology
It’s common for certain types of disabled users to use screen reading (i.e. assistive) technology when browsing the web. Under WCAG 2.1, it’s important to recognize these users and cater to their needs. This is where alternative text comes into play, a lot. These users are unable to actually view the website a lot of the time, so they have their screen reader actually read out the content of the page.
Motor Disability & Accessibility
Another of the main updates featured in WCAG 2.1 includes the focus on accessibility in regard to people with motor disabilities. Accessibility in this regard mainly refers to designing UIs that aren’t difficult to navigate and/or use.
Unnecessary gestures are one of the main areas to focus on. For example, if you have an app that requires the user to shake their mobile device, a person with an advanced motor disability might find that movement very difficult. People with Parkinson’s Disease, for example, would have a very difficult time doing a movement of this type. Learn more about specific techniques for dealing with these types of issues here.
At the end of the day, you’d be surprised by how many disabled people browse the internet (probably more so than non-disabled people). It’s important to not close these people out from your content and ensure that you stay relevant with W3C accessibility standards.